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November 8, 2014
Oh man, the idea of hiking the AT has been pulling at me more and more since turning 40. When it comes to my everyday life and career path I find myself asking, “What the hell am I doing?” I suppose I’m no different than most, but now I’m deciding to do something about it. I’ve committed to thru hike the AT starting March of 2015. I guess a lot of folk may say those words and truly never get there. Why am I different? Maybe I’m not but as long as I stay the path, stay focused, remind myself why I want this and most importantly keep myself active towards preparation for the hike, I believe I will start my journey and finish it……
After a recent and pretty interesting two day trip to Maine I thought to myself while driving home, “Now is the right time to start your blog!”…. As of now I have my tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, some needed gear, head lamp and some other small purchases. I felt it was time to really test things out. I’m lucky enough to have a family owned log cabin up in Woodstock, Maine. What better way to put myself to the test than to spend a few nights there while camping outside in the tent.
For the most part, everything went as well as it could. Sleeping in the tent was a pretty quick adjustment. A bit of rain and some chilly temps didn’t bother me as much as I thought they might. Other than hearing some smallish animal or a deer, God I couldn’t tell, snooping around in the middle of the night I came out an outdoor sleeping master!!!
It was day three that showed me that you never can take the woods for granted. I got a late start on my hike. I only planned on doing a 5 mile loop in Grafton Notch State Park. No sweat, plenty of time to beat dusk. I figured I would do some of the GTL and cut back on Woodsum Spur Trail to get back to the lot… Here’s the problem, Woodsum doesn’t cut back. It keeps going up. By 4:30pm I realized I wasn’t heading home. Here I was standing on top of the mountain three and a half hours in and realizing the only way down was the way I came up. Good Times!!
What do you do when you know you have three hours of hiking ahead of you, in November, while its snowing (oh yeah I left that part out), leaves all over the ground and huge rocks you have no choice but to stealth down?? You hustle your ass off!!! I couldn’t think about turning an ankle, splitting my head open or freezing to death. I needed to get to the bottom of this damn mountain as fast as I could! I didn’t panic or think about my secluded surroundings (only saving grace knowing I can handle a night hike or two during my thru hike). I actually felt a rush of adrenalin when I went into survival mode. I had complete faith in myself, knowing I could get down to the road even with darkness quickly approaching….
Well darkness approached and then arrived. Oh and remember how I mentioned I purchased my headlamp for the AT? Well that was sitting back at the cabin. With pines all around me, cloud covered skies above and finally night making its appearance I felt like I was standing in a padded room without windows. That actually might have been nicer seeing that at least a padded room is warm. Thankfully due to not using my cell phone I had plenty of battery life and a half decent flashlight. Follow the blue blaze and I would be home free!!!
Here was one of the luckier things about this hike. The day before about a mile down the road I hiked Old Speck Mountain. I had zero phone reception hiking that mountain, but during the GTL hike I had perfectly fine phone reception. My father (paw Cody) was at the cabin and was expecting me back around 5:30 for dinner. Obviously I wasn’t going to make it. As calmly as I could I texted him that I got a bit off track but was making my way off the mountain. Don’t show the old man any panic!!! And honestly I wasn’t panicking. Just follow the blue blaze and you’ll be all good.
When you know you are on the right path there’s something actually really calming about hiking at night. I soon crossed a brook I remembered crossing early on towards the start of the hike. Yes!!! I’m close! Look at me! Survivor man has nothing on me!! I’m freeeeeeeeee…. Where did the trail go?? I quickly noticed what I was hiking on wasn’t really a trail anymore. It was actually just the woods. After backtracking I attempted a different route that resembled a trail. Problem was not only did the ground all start looking the same but I couldn’t find a blue blaze for the life of me. Before I knew it I was climbing over downed trees, pushing through heavy branches until I finally realized I had lost my sense of direction. You know what’s not soothing? If you guessed losing your sense of direction you win! Stay calm, stay calm, stay calm… Call Paw and tell him what’s going on and tell him stay calm, stay calm stay calm.
I decided to find my way back to the brook and follow it to the bottom. I knew I saw the brook very early into the hike so if I could stay on the brook it would at least lead me to the road. This is what I explained to Paw and dammit this is what I was going to do. After another half hour of walking through woods and mud, falling hard on my side and cursing out so loud that I probably scared every living animal within a five mile radius, I came to a small dirt access road that I crossed close to six hours earlier. I made my way down the road where I found the blue blaze entrance and walked out to my car. At 7 o’clock at night I stripped down as fast as I could to throw on dry clothes. I told Paw Cody that I was out and safe and getting back to the cabin as soon as possible…
I was fortunate enough to have a small dinner waiting for me when I returned. There was a happy father who, while I was working myself out of the woods was praying for my safety with rosary beads in hand and closing in on a decision to call search and rescue if I went 10 more minutes in the woods. He had the wood burning stove cooking. The sauna was ready, not one of those weak gym versions that are electric but an actual rock and fire burning sauna, happily cooking at 110 degrees to help me sweat the cold experience out of my pours. I made it out and had all this glory to return to…… yet I kept thinking to myself that these things will happen when out on the AT. It might be colder, rainier and more dismal and all I will have at the end of the hike is a tent, sleeping bag and some ramen noodles. Play the cards that are dealt….. See you in March Appalachian.
This being my first entry it’s a bit on the longer side. Some will be longer than others but I’m truly excited about sharing my journey with as many people as possible. Honestly I’m a city guy who the outdoors has been tugging at for a while. I’m happy to finally let it pull as much as it likes. I’ll be blogging a couple times a month keeping an update of my preparation and from there it will be all about the hike. Thanks to Ian and Andy the dusty camels for giving me this opportunity and thanks to all of you that will follow along as I go.
Jesse (trail name TBD)
February 27, 2015
Since my last entry I’ve been on a roller coaster ride filled with more downs and free falls than I’d like to experience again in this lifetime. The job I parted ways with didn’t go as smoothly as I liked, but I prefer not to get into the details. I prefer finding the positives in this situation. Sometimes the world can show how cruel it truly can be. I’ve done well avoiding the ugliness humans can show at their worst up until now and certainly there’s much worse going on in our world compared to my situation, but, none the less, it’s an experience that threw me for a loop. I’ve had to work to regain my focus and enthusiasm for the hike, not because of doubt or reconsideration but because I just couldn’t get my mind from the place of ugliness back to the place of focus and excitement. This current situation has been a bit of a combination of the bad and the ugly, but the wonderful thing about hard lessons is that good often comes from the bad.
Those who care and love you always seem to step to the forefront to assist. I’m fortunate in so many ways to have a family and group of friends that support me. When I first decided to take on the journey of the AT, they encouraged me to live the dream and see it through. They have been with me since day one of this decision. Showing interest in my prep, expressing concern with the issues I could confront, making sure I’m prepared, sending articles, telling me of folks they have met and spoke with that have attempted or finished the AT, asking six thousand questions many of which are the same (I’m more than happy to answer seeing they are showing genuine interest.), and, of course, telling me over and over not to get eaten by a bear. More importantly, most have seen how I’ve been affected by my recent turmoil. This is when I’ve felt their support even more.
It’s never easy to not let things effect you, get you down and have you second guessing the bigger picture of life. I have found myself many times reflecting on the past and the future. I find myself asking, “What have you done with your life?” and “What do I have to show for myself, and how will I leave a mark?” Life honestly can be some scary shit. I’m forty now and I’m truly not getting any younger. This is one of the many places those closest to me make their mark. They show me the effect I have on their lives and others. They are the ones who teach me discipline and patience. They are the drive behind my moving forward. At times I can be truly lost, but I know I have guides to help me along the way. They are a huge part of my good…
On March 21st I will take my first step on Springer Mountain. In some sense I have a bit of an understanding of what to expect but in so many others I set off on a journey that I can’t predict any of the true experiences I will go through in this 2200 mile journey. Will I start? Yes.. Will I finish? I don’t know but I do know that each day I will wake up with the passion and determination to do so.
If it wasn’t for the likes of Bob Maguire, my coach and teacher at a young age, I couldn’t believe in my ability to overcome the demands the body puts you through and to know how far you truly can push the limits. If it wasn’t for my friend and brother Chuck Ames who at times will look at me and tell me I’m better than this and there comes a time in life where you need to man up, face yourself, be honest and get at it. If it wasn’t for my step dad Phil who truly shows what loves is unconditionally and reminds me what the heart is capable of providing without needing to be told. If it wasn’t for my brother Scott, my ironman who is and always will be the pillar I try to live up to. He will be with me throughout my hike. He will be in my ear reminding me why this is important for me and my growth. If it wasn’t for my mother, she is my best friend who never judges me even when I’m not at my best. She will worry but she will always pick me up and be ready to throw her arms around me when I finish regardless of when that is. She is my protector (and the one most worried about me getting eaten by a bear). And there is my father Paw, my mentor, my reminder of the true realities of life and how you can’t leave any stone unturned. He will live through me during this hike and be there at the most important parts, literally, seeing me off at Springer Mountain, meeting me at Harpers Ferry and welcoming me at Mount Katahdin. His pride will be with me every step of the way.
It doesn’t end there as I have endless family members and friends who will cross my mind often, leave me messages of encouragement, bust on me and remind me of all that are missing me and those I am missing at home. A Red Sox update here and there wouldn’t be so bad either.
The bad and the ugly happens to the best of us. It’s is how we respond to the combination which defines us. For me it’s starting my hike with the intentions of not stopping until I reach the peak of Katahdin. With all the good in my life honestly how can I not.
Jesse (trail name still to be determined)
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