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Reality?



It's too quiet here, so I'm gonna ramble for a while about reality - Trail
reality.  .
I'll start with some caveats -

1. I'm only talking to the 96 thruhikers this time around
2/ This will be my personal opinion, experience and observation.
3/ Advice is worth what you pay for it - and this is free.
4/ I won't guarantee you'll like everything I have to say.
5/ I may wander off in strange directions
6/ As a thruhiker I am, by definition, insane and cannot
        be held responsible for anything I say.

OK - so what's the point here?  Just that I'd like to meet all the 96
thruhikers on
this list in Carlisle, PA at the Gathering (Oct 11 -14) - after you finish
the AT.
There's an assumption here that you'll all make it.  But there are also a few
mountains between here and October - for all of us.

Reality is that only about 50% of those who start at Springer every year
make it
to Damascus.  And only 10% make it to Katahdin.   NOT nice numbers - but
reality.

The question is - which 10% will make it ???  No one knows - there is no
"standard
profile" of a successful thruhiker.  I know people who've tried for years
to determine
who will make it and who won't.  They don't know - neither do I.  I  know
that age, sex,
experience and physical condition don't  make any apparent difference.
Being young,
strong and fast is no guarantee.  I was passed in Tennessee by a large
group of college
students doing 20+ mile days - one of them finished 1 day ahead of me, most
of them
finished a week or more later and some of them didn't finish.  My Trail
family had 2
people who celebrated their 60th birthday on the Trail, a 76 year old 4
time thruhiker,
4 of us in our fifties and some younger folk.  Only 2 didn't finish -  due
to injury.

There's no consistency in the reasons for hiking the Trail.  Among other
reasons -
some are out there for "fun" (whatever that is), some to see how far they
can get,
some to prove something to themselves, some as a "different" way to spend the
summer, some just go to keep a friend company, a few are out there to
party, and
some are committed to go to Katahdin.  A lot of us hike at a change point
in our
lives - graduation, retirement, divorce, death in the family, etc.  Some
start out
not caring about Katahdin and change their minds along the way.  Some start out
committed to Katahdin and change their minds.  Personal opinion is that all
of us
are looking for something.  Some of us find it.

A lot of thruhikers (including myself) spend months sorting, evaluating,
weighing,
refining and agonizing over what to carry on the Trail - our equipment.
And when
we get out there, we discover the most obvious of truths - the equipment
doesn't
walk the Trail - we do.  We just get the "privilege" of carrying it.  The
equipment
doesn't get anyone to Katahdin.  What WILL get you there is what's in your head
and your heart - your attitude, determination and commitment.  I know - you
think
you need the equipment.  But most of us find that we don't need ALL of it.

And there's little consistency in the reasons people get off the Trail.
Some quit
because of injury or illness.  Shin splints, stress fractures, muscle
pulls, sprained
ankles, tendonitis and knee problems are common and to a large degree,
preventable.

Some quit because they run out of time or money.  The Trail can be expensive,
especially if you spend a lot of time in town - pizza, beer and ice cream are
expensive.  The $1 per mile number is at least 7 years old - don't count on
it -
it'll probably cost more.

But the main reasons for not finishing are head and heart reasons - what some
call lack of will.   The Trail is a head game.  And a heart game.

Some of the reasons for quitting are related to pack weight, speed and
distance.  It's
not a lot of fun dragging a pack up Blood Mountain or Shuckstack - and the
heavier the
pack, the less fun it is.  Some people find out it's not what they thought
it would be -
sometimes it's hard and sometimes it hurts.  Part of the solution is
obvious, isn't it?
Lighten the pack.

Some get discouraged by the rain, snow, sleet and hail - not to mention the
mud.
I was reading my log last night.  I had all of the above - in one day.  I
had one period
when 19 out of 23 days were rain, snow, sleet or hail - or some combination
thereof.
And you may, too.  There was one young lady who asked that "whoever pissed off
Mother Nature - please, please apologize".

Some get discouraged by sore legs and shoulders, by blisters and chafing
and foot
pain and numb toes.  All long distance hikers get those - it's part of the
package.
Pay attention to your body, fix the problems before they become serious and
take
aspirin or Tylenol or Motrin at night so you can sleep.  Just don't take
painkillers
for hiking - too much painkiller can cause other problems - like kidney
failure,
perforated stomach, ulcers, etc.!!  Not to mention additional damage because
the painkiller masks what your body's trying to tell you.

Some quit because they can't stand to live 3 or 5 or 10 days without a
shower.  Or
because they can't stand the thruhiker smell - or because they can't face
putting on
that "toxic T-shirt" in the morning.

Some quit because they don't like the mileage-consciousness and competetiveness
they see.  The trail makes demands in terms of time and mileage and a lot of us
get all uptight about making it to Katahdin and forget to stop and smell
the roses.
I know people who planned to get to Katahdin in October so they could see
the leaves
turn - and then hiked fast enough to finish in mid-September.  And then
complained
because they didn't see the leaves turn.   And  I know 20 mpd hikers who slowed
down to 5 mpd in the Wilderness.   Slow down.   Enjoy what you've got - it
won't
last forever.  And for some - it's better than a job.

I had to make some decisions about mileage too.  My contract said I didn't have
to do 20 mile days to get to Katahdin - and I didn't.  But I changed my
contract in
Virginia to read that I could do 20's if I wanted to.  And I did.  But it
was my
choice, my timing, my contract, when I was ready for it.  It was my hike.

There are some who quit because they lose sight of their goal.  Katahdin is
a long,
long way when you're in Georgia or Virginia or even New York.  It's sometimes
hard to believe you can walk that far, or that Katahdin even exists.  So I
used the
things I could believe in to draw myself up the Trail - one day, one mile,
sometimes
one hill at a time.  Some days it was Hot Springs or Damascus or Delaware
Water Gap.
Sometimes it was the next shelter, or the top of the hill - or the next 100
steps.
Or a shower - or ice cream.

Personal opinion is that some go home because they see themselves changing
in ways
they don't understand, didn't plan or can't control - and they're not ready
for those
changes.  Or can't tolerate them.  Or don't want them.

Barring injury (watch out for wet roots and rocks - and bog bridges!!)
those who get
to Damascus have the physical conditioning and knowledge to make it all the
way.
So why do so many drop out after Damascus?

North of Damascus, a few drop out because of illness, injury or pain.  But
most quit
because they're tired or bored.  Almost all of us get tired or bored at
some point.
WHAT??   You mean the Trail can be boring?  Yep,  grinding out 20 mile days
in PA
and NJ and NY can be a drag - even when it's where you really want to be.
Not that
you have to do 20's, but what else are you gonna do with those long days?

And we all get tired.  A surprising number of people quit at Gorham, NH.
Some even
quit at Monson.  Think about it - 5 to 6 months on the Trail -  How many
mountains?
How hot was it?  How much snow?  How bad is your vitamin deficiency?  How
hungry
are you?  These are serious questions - when I got off the Trail, I
couldn't drive at
night because of a vitamin A deficiency.  By the time they get to Maine,
some people
can't carry enough food to keep their bodies going.  Some of them don't
keep going.

The Trail isn't all fun and sun.   But it's not all doom and gloom, either.
There's
a bumper sticker that reads - "No Rain, No Pain, No Maine".  So what gets us
through the rain and the pain?

Sometimes it's optimism - after 6 days of rain, at least you know the
springs won't
be dry.  When you're swarmed by the mosquitoes in NJ and Mass, you can be
thankful
they're not wasps.  After 3 weeks of drought, at least you won't have to
put on wet
socks in the morning.  Experience teaches that change is constant -
tomorrow the sun
will shine, tonight I'll have a full stomach, in 2 days I'll get a shower.
And after
1200 miles of fog, rain and smog at every overlook, one clear night on
Pleasant Pond
Mountain made it all worthwhile.  Each state brings it's own people,
features, events
and emotions.

Sometimes it's humor.  Have you ever looked at yourself after 6 days of
hiking?  Do you
know what the word "smelly" means?  Or "intrepid" ?  "Or "trudge"?  Do you
know how
much thruhikers love pain?  Do you care?

Sometimes it's common sense or knowing the answers. But none of us knows
ALL the
answers.  So sometimes it's learning from others - they have answers that
we don't.

Sometimes it's your friends - you know - those dirty, ragged, smelly people
you hike
with every day.  What would you do without them?  Could you stand the
thought of them
climbing Katahdin without you?

Sometimes it's getting off the Trail for a day or 3 and getting a good
night's sleep and
filling the gigantic  hole that's caused by  "hiker hunger".  And then
finding that we
miss our friends and the Trail - and the pain and the rain.

Sometimes it's Katahdin - especially after you've seen it for the first time.

And sometimes it's just the faith that God really does know what He's doing
- and
that He might explain it to you someday.

So now you know a few of the things you'll run into besides cantankerous
stoves and
broken pack frames (yeah, that happens too).  And you know there are
solutions to
everything you'll run into.  No, I didn't give you all the solutions - I
only gave you a
few of mine - they work for me.  They might work for you - or they might
not.   You
need to find your own.  Then it becomes your choice to use those solutions
or not.  For
those of you who decide to solve the problems and keep on truckin' - I'll
see you at
the Gathering.  You can tell me about it there.

Go all the way - it's worth it.
Jim Owen
Bald Eagle, AT-92



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