An Old Dog on the Trail – Where your brain says you are 25 and your body says “Are you kidding, your 80!”
In 2017, my daughter told me she and her husband were going to Katahdin, Maine. I had nothing “doing,” yeah, why not? We had climbed 2 mountains the previous year in the Adirondacks. Later I found out we were walking – “WHAT, I thought we were going by car!”. What the hell I thought, it beats sitting on the front porch watching cars go by. Let’s do this.
The first thing was to get all the appropriate gear we would need; most of which came from REI with a lot of help from “Post Card” Mark Hughes at REI. Geared up, I headed for the gym late December 2017 to get ready for this walk.
We had decided on a flip/flop to get us away from the 3,600 hikers starting from Springer Mountain in Georgia. We were to start at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, and head NOBO to Katahdin, Maine, mid-April. Up jumped the devil in March – prostate cancer. I told doctors at Fox Chase that I would be “on the trail, April 19” with or without them! One week after radiation treatments were finished, we started the trail on April 19 as I planned.
To me, the Trail is “more mental than physical.” You have to convince your body to go along with what your brain tells it to do. You must make the transition from the “civilized” world to the “wilderness” world. The first thing for you to conquer is the difference between “what you want versus what you need.” Every ounce you carry must be used; or, it goes into the “Hikers’ Boxes” along the way. You have to look at the trail from a positive view or negativity will take you off the trail. You set realistic goals that can be met. Contrary to the movie/book, “A Walk in the Woods” – the trail isn’t a walk; it’s more like a march! The routine that you develop to get through each day will be hard to keep with the changes in weather, terrain and you. You will adopt or fail! Until you get 500 miles under your belt, your body will still be in denial unless you’re 20 years old. Once your body makes the adjustment, things get easier –dah—what did he say? Take the trail on, one day at a time. Don’t wake up saying you have 1,800 more miles to go. Take one day at a time–what lean-to to get to or stream or overlook. Enjoy the adventure, taking in all that’s around you. It’s not a race. Old African proverb: “Eat an elephant one bite at a time.”
You get frustrated at least a dozen times a day – the trail is testing you! There were days I wanted to quit. That’s when your mental strength kicks in or you’re done. My daughter would encourage me, “I know you can do it Dad; but, it’s gonna take a lot of cursing.” It did! When you’re soaked through (even with rain gear on) with slippery rocks, mud ever where (except on the rocks); you still have to eat, sleep and set up your tent in the rain. It will make your day when you have to get up in the morning and put the wet clothes on (when it’s below freezing). Your routine will be tested every day of the 200+ days you’re on the trail. Using he “KISS” system is the best – “Keep it Simple Stupid!”
Don’t let your age keep you off the trail. Age is just a number on your birth certificate. I met a lot of 60+ year olds on the trail. All had that positive attitude necessary to beat the trail. You can do a “Through Hike” the whole trail or “Section Hikes.” All that matters is “Get out there and do it.” It will add years to your life for enjoying your grandchildren!
We went as a threesome – “the 3 musketeers” – “all for one and one for all.” My hat is off to those hiking alone. It helps to help each other. My daughter and son-in-law were my crutches. When the days get tough, the tough get tougher. It is tough to push on through the rain, wind, cold, rocks, more rocks, mud. You have to do it for yourself; not for badges or bragging rights. Your character and stamina will be tested to your core. The trail will smooth out your wrinkled character. Even if you don’t finish, you will know who you really are. I met a lot of youngsters out there trying to find themselves. Some people can’t adjust to the civilized world when they go back to it.
A bit about falling—don’t worry you will fall! It’s a matter of how many times and how hard! My left leg has nerve damage and doesn’t come up like my right. It found every rock on the trail. I fell 5 times in 450+ miles. There are blind people, amputees, old and young on the trail. The “People’s Trail” is there for “all.” Man and nature have always had connection. Get out there and see what it’s all about. It will change you forever.
I’ll see on the trail! Moses