Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Nitro (Pt. 1)

After spending two months in the woods reinventing the way in which I approached daily life, coming into civilization was an experience completely independent from the rest of the journey. We considered ourselves ‘wildlife’ among the everyday Americans going about their lives--on their lunch breaks, perusing the local classifieds for apartment listings, analyzing stock prices and changes in the commodities markets, arguing over sports, complicating uncomplicated matters for the sake of causing trouble, and generally buzzing about. Entering a new town was not only strange in that it was a completely foreign community, but also because inevitably we were received in vastly different manners, and predicting those receptions was difficult at best. Some towns had nasty reputations due to either eminent domain issues, or simply a general feeling of disgust toward disgusting hikers. Some towns had overwhelmingly strong reputations for generosity, friendliness, and acceptance. Regardless of the reception we were granted, it was usually fairly different from the reputation that it carried on the trail.

If you are interested to know what it feels like to experience a thru-hiker reception, take three weeks off from work and follow this list: lug on a 40 pound backpack, enter the woods, climb 7-8 mountains a day regardless of the weather, don’t shower, don’t do your laundry, sleep in the clothes and socks you hike in, walk through a truckload of moose shit, take a few spills and don’t wash off the dirt or blood, eat only noodles, peanut butter, flour tortillas, snickers bars, and water, don’t speak to any non-hikers, don’t listen to any music, sit next to a campfire every night, and don’t shave. Then come out of the woods and promptly visit your local grocery store. Hooooo boy.

After two months, this grocery store moment had only slightly lost its luster. We did, however, come to expect the aghast mothers, the not so subtle looks, and the inevitable thru-hiker presentations (see forthcoming ‘Thru-Hiker Presentation). It became hard to shock the thru-hikers even though it was easy to shock the general public. We fell into a pattern of searching, purchasing, and repackaging. It became both a tangible pleasure and a careful science. Things continued in this fashion until late August. In Rutland, VT, we got a shock that propelled our already hilariously fantastic adventure to a new stratosphere. In Rutland, VT, while we sat outside of the Price Chopper in the parking lot repackaging our mac and cheese, our Enterprise Rent-A-Car agent pulled up in our Dodge Nitro.

The Dodge Nitro is your typical gas-guzzling monstrosity that can been seen quite often cruising down the rugged terrains of Main Street in middle America. It is big, it is unnecessary, and it looks like a tank with jazz hands. We were heading to a reggae festival in northern Vermont, and mainly needed it to transport five bodies and five packs the size of five smaller bodies. The Enterprise agent assured us that it would suffice. Suffice it did. The Nitro, with its immense capacity for creating an environment that was the polar opposite of hiking, immediately relieved our knee pains, cured our irritable dispositions, and disposed of the literal weights on our backs. I begged the group to allow me to drive, and, while en route, I often glanced in the rear-view mirror and noticed one of the trail weary hikers grinning and looking over his shoulder at the passing highway framed by the mountain of packs and the chrome trim of the Nitro.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Prelude to 'The Nitro'

Driving is a strange privilege afforded to many Americans. In many ways, driving has become a national obsession: commuters congest the highways for hours and hours of each workday, only to pile back in the car for weekend trips with the family. In fact, I remember when I was younger our family used to get in the van and take drives to neighboring towns to observe and appreciate the beautiful upstate New York landscapes. This activity carried over to my own driving life. While in high school one of my favorite nightly routines was getting in my 1984 Cavalier with my best friend and driving around the Capital District until very early in the morning. Admittedly, this stemmed from boredom and a lack of other stimulating events, however, we both grew to enjoy simply driving and swapping stories and ideas. Many of the trips I have taken were initially developed around two in the morning on Interstate 87.

After college, when I began working for HSBC, I joined the commuter world. For nearly and entire year, I commuted over 100 miles each day from my college town to the North Shore of Massachusetts. While this undoubtedly took a terrible toll on my car, it afforded me the opportunity to spend one last year together with my college friends; an opportunity which I knew would never present itself again. After moving into Boston, I continued to commute a sizable distance to my office, yet managed to seriously decrease the wear and tear on my car. After nearly three years of following the packs of cars down the interstates, I developed my first distaste for driving. I learned that road rage is very easy to fall into, and difficult to contain. I also learned that I was rushing to a job that I hated. Again, a traveling decision made within the confines of the car was about to take place. And what better decision than the ultimate extreme?

After our initial physical struggles on the Appalachian Trail, Blake and I developed an acute taste for the freedom from technology, and the slow pace of our new lives. We woke up before sunrise and purposefully took our time preparing our breakfasts, breaking down camp, and packing up for a new day of walking. We both lusted and worried over maps and guidebooks; each mile presented both a new challenge and a new adventure. We, like new parents, developed an enhanced sense of insecurity when crossing a road, taking special care to look both ways and cross directly instead of at an angle. I became fascinated when an overlook framed a distant highway, remembering the stress I used to feel. The more we became enmeshed in the woods, the more we developed a mind for the undoable, the unimaginable, the unconquerable. The possibilities are limitless in a world where your greatest fear is a mouse in your hair or a spider in your sleeping bag.

Making friends along the way enhanced this perspective on the ‘real’ world. We often engaged one another on ways in which we could further remove ourselves from the accustomed. We decided not to shower for 21 days; we decided not to wash our clothes until it was unbearable; we challenged one another to battles of distance, speed, and mimicry. We made plans for huge days: a 20, followed by a 24, followed by a 21, followed by a 27 and here we are in fill in the blank in time for fill in the blank! We made terrible decisions and we made wonderful decisions. We laid out under the stars shivering and laughing and scheming recklessly and singing until we could no longer take it and collapsed in our sleeping bags. We made friends with strangers and day hikers and weekend warriors, we laughed at the NOBO’s who made cell calls in the shelters; we considered ourselves an integral part of the landscape, not merely visitors. One young girl upon seeing me on the trail exclaimed, “this is the Appalachian Trail! Welcome!” I smiled and thought, “This is my home.” I don’t think I thought about driving for a month solid. And I was at peace with that anti-thought. Until I met the Nitro.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Grease Monkey.

OK, here's the first installment. It was fun to write, and hopefully will be fun to read! Enjoy...

Gorham, NH wasn’t an ordinary town stop; this was the mother of town stops in the early stages of our trail journey. While in Maine, we had been treated to tremendous hospitality, and wonderful trail angels. We also got our taste for the hostel life; a mixture of interesting hosts and guests, and a small slice of small town America. Maine offered a miraculous picture of long-distance hiking: a slow meandering approach to life, a unobstructed and deliberate goal that manifested itself differently on a day to day basis, and a both uncomplicated existence and an extremely complex aesthetic experience. However, Maine was--as my sister would say--both cool and uncool. Maine was hard. Maine made me think that I had an incurable rash between my legs in an important area. Maine gave me so many mosquito bites that at one point one foot was visibly larger than the other. Maine made me appreciate dry clothes. Maine showed me that a staircase is not always convenient. Maine drove out the meek and the weak, and nearly drove me out of my mind. Maine destroyed my ideal picture of an Appalachian journey. Maine introduced me to real knee pain, not that crap that I suffered from after track practice. But, Maine gave me something that I will never forget: pure happiness. However, while Maine was extraordinary, it lacked one important and tangible element that Gorham, NH provided us: Fast Food.
Fast Food continued to both haunt and direct our lives in the earlier portion of the Appalachian Trail. “Is there an Arby’s in Hanover? I would kill for one of those disgusting-looking roast beef monsters.” “Oh my god, where the hell is the privy? I knew Taco Bell was a terrible idea with a 4000 foot climb standing in front of us.” “I have to say, KFC was amazing, but I’d love to get at a few of those personal pans from Pizza Hut. Let’s go in 2 hours. Or right now.” Zero days were organized not by the grocery store or the local outfitters, but by the location and walking distance of the Fast Food joints as wonderfully displayed on our guide book maps. “Yay! McDonalds and Burger King are literally neighbors! I’m thinking breakfast and brunch at BK--they have that amazing quad meat sandwich--and lunch and snacks at McDonalds.” Blake always happily agreed. I always happily agreed. And, despite what many granola-crunching folks may tell you, many, MANY others came along for the feast. I’m not saying that Fast Food was my sustenance goal in each town (actually, Coca Cola was), but not only were the calories hard to pass up, the draw was immediate and overwhelming. After noodles and mashed potatoes every night (replacing maybe 50% of the calories lost), the ease and almost instant gratification of Fast Food weakened my knees. As time went by, I learned to eat more appropriately in town (however, not on the trail), but I still indulged without guilt or regret of any measurable level. So yes, I’ll take my fruit salad and roasted chicken with a side of Big Mac. And don’t forget the 64 oz Coke.


Hi. I am Sam. This is my blog. I hope you enjoy it. I will update this blog whenever I feel like updating it. Mainly this blog will offer stories I write concerning my experience on the Appalachian Trail. Also this blog may have pictures. These stories are meant to primarily entertain me and a few others, but if they reach the depths of the internet, I hope they entertain others. I miss the AT tremendously, and recently I've realized that I need to write about this amazing journey. Hopefully, these short snippets will offer a window into both my experience, and into the experience of a long-distance hiker in general. It truly is a life worth leading, and I have the highest respect for anyone who drops their life, or places it on hold for a considerable period of time to attempt a thru-hike. Onward.