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[at-l] The Handbook, the Companion, and a respectful suggestion

Dear Jack,

I wanted to write and thank you for your comments on atldiges1544 (I receive 
the digest version).  Your post expresses so eloquently what I have been 
feeling the last few days.  

I am the mother of an 18 yr. old son who finished high school early this year 
so he could get a job and earn the money to attempt a thru-hike beginning 
mid-April.  He is purchasing all his own equipment (all new since he didn't 
have any "light" equipment, and saving all the money he will require while on 
the hike except for food.  We will be purchasing his food for mail drops as 
well as supplying money for food along the trail and covering the costs of 
all mail drops. This way I can attempt to see that he eats a balanced (at 
least somewhat) diet while on the trail for six months (that's his goal).  I 
love to garden and dehydrate -- so I seem well suited for the job. He 
appointed me as his research assistant to find all that I could about what he 
needed to know for the trail without giving him too many details about the 
trail itself.  I have researched required gear for the hike while encouraging 
him to keep it light.  I have spent hours and hours on the web reading 
journals, reading digests and talking with previous and future thru-hikers.  
We have ordered books from ATC, Center for AT Studies, Amazon.com, and 
several from Bibliofind (a used book source on the web) regarding preparing, 
hiking, eating, etc.   We have been to numerous gear stores and on the web 
looking for the necessary gear.  All to help insure that he have the needed 
elements to "hike his own hike."  He is more concerned with "being" than 
"doing" the hike.  Although his goal is to finish the hike in one season, his 
reason for going is to give himself time to figure out what he wants to 
accomplish with futher education, his career (outdoors or indoors) and to 
"know thyself."  His father and I are thrilled that he has made this decision 
and want to support him in every way possible.

So I signed up for both digests - the one from ATC and the one from Center 
for AT Studies.  I have only lurked, never posted.  You see, I've never 
stepped foot on the trail although we live in it's shadow.  We are located in 
Southeast Tennessee equal distance from Knoxville and Chattanooga.  Yet, 
somehow, between meeting hikers via the digests, talking to hikers via the 
internet, reading journals of both current and past thru-hikers, I have 
caught the AT fever.  My husgand and I have even been dreaming about doing a 
section hike with our son in a couple of years, maybe even talking the 
daughters into going with us.  And we have never been hiking!  What is this 
strange love of the AT that is so contagious that it has captured our 
imagination?  We are talking about losing weight, getting in shape, and 
beginning day hikes in order to prepare ourselves for even a section of the 
AT.  And I have been given a trail name by my son without ever seeing the 
trail.  I don't even know where Springer Mountain is!  But we'll find it 
before April 15th, his projected start date.  My AT name from my son -- 
Trackermom -- because I'll be tracking him on the trail.  

It is exactly the individual spirit of the thru-hiker that I have observed on 
both lists which I hope our son develops as he hikes.  I have been so 
impressed by the nuture and generosity of those involved with the trail.  
People hike for many reasons,  and some for none.  Some thru-hike, some 
flip-flop, some section -- whatever seems to fulfill the needs of the hiker.  
I asked my son why he was going.   His answer, "To see what I'm made of."  I 
asked him how he wanted to hike.  He said "I just want to be on the trail."  
He wants to go from Georgia to Maine, but doesn't care if he gets a 
certificate -- he's more concerned with the experience of the trail.  I 
understand that there must be an incredible feeling of confidence which comes 
from completing such a daunting task, having overcome so many obstacles along 
the trail and finding yourself at the summit of either Katahdin or Springer.  
  I hope he finds himself at the top of Katahdin at the end of his trail.  
But if he finds that the trail ends somewhere else for him because he has 
finished his search, then I hope he never feels that he is somehow less than 
those that finished at the summit.  It seems from one who has never hiked the 
trail, that not everyone who begins the trail has to finish it in order to 
meet their goals.  For some that is the goal.  But for others, the goal is 
much more elusive.  Both, I imagine, have incredible challenges and 
incredible rewards.

Again, thank you for your reasoned and level-headed comments on the digest.  
I am glad that I am the one reading the digests and not my son.  I wouldn't 
want to discourage him in any way.  I know that the passions of the recent 
posts have been out of a love for the trail.  I'm not sure at 18 he would 
understand that.  

Judy Tickel
Southeast Tennessee
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