Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sure I'd like to go hiking with you...

Unlike Grace, my motivations for the trail are not long-held. You see, it's only because of Grace that I have any clue what the Appalachian Trail is. Not being from the East Coast, I'd never given any thought to the Appalachian Mountains at all, really. So, whatever pain and discomfort I encounter on the trail I get to blame solely on her, even if she doesn't know that yet.

You see, this starts with a throwaway conversation that I was having at the Peace Corps office in Yerevan--well, I thought it was a throwaway conversation at the time. Grace was dating a PCV at the time who I was good friends with. I knew Grace, of course, but since we hadn't had the opportunity to interact a whole lot during pre-service training (the 2 and a half months we spent training before we actually became for-realsies volunteers) we weren't terribly close. He and she and I were all sitting in the Peace Corps office, and somehow it came up that Grace was planning on hiking the AT after service. Adam (the friend), knowing that I'm an avid hiker, turned to me and essentially said "Grace can't go on the hike alone; you're going with her."

To which I responded "sure, why not? How long is this trail?"

"From Georgia to Maine"



"Huh. Well. Alright."

To tell the truth, I didn't think much more about it. But Grace and I--due to our proximity--became very good friends over the next two years. And after a while she brought it up again and again, and so my agreement solidified into a real plan to do this. I've had my doubts over the course of the last year or so as we've talked more about it and it's come closer to reality. For a while I kept vacillating with the excuse that I didn't know if I'd be able to afford it. But then, I realized that if I was actually going to do it that I had to plan everything in my life around it, which meant looking for work and a cheap place to stay that would allow me to save the money I needed. I'm still trying to save that money, by the way, but am bound and determined to have enough to not have to drop out.

Moral of the story: don't agree to go hiking with Grace.


Friday, January 21, 2011

Why do I want to do this?

I'm pretty much a rookie at backpacking and hiking and saying that I am going to hike the Appalachian Trail generates a lot of eye rolling and amused condescension from family members and outdoor sports store employees. Even my dad, usually the most supportive parent in the world, took a while to come around to the idea. The first fifteen times I mentioned it to him, he'd say, "Wait....are you still talking about doing that?"

So I feel like I should give a thorough explanation of why exactly I hit on this plan. I can't remember when I first heard about the Appalachian Trail, but I do remember that my first reaction was a response to the very challenge of its existence. I mean, 2,000 miles? People walk that far? In one go? I've been accused of being unhealthily competitive before, and that certainly seems to be a factor in my original interest. I wanted to see if I could do something like that, if I was as tough and determined as these other people.

Five months ago, I came home. I was in Armenia for two years and two months, as a Peace Corps volunteer, and I can honestly say that it was the hardest thing I have ever done. I don't regret doing it, but I know I would've gone home in those first six months if it weren't for the fact that I'm extraordinarily stubborn and proud. I couldn't bear going home and looking everyone in the eye and telling them that I'd failed.

That's a pretty stupid reason to do anything, but I'm still pleased that I made it, that I completed my service. At some point, I hit a runner’s high. I started to appreciate the pain and how I had to push myself to keep going. I loved that I was strong enough and I wanted to hold on to that feeling. As much as I wanted to be home, it felt like a letdown to go back to a normal life. I wanted another challenge.

During my service, I started to think about how this would be the perfect time in my life to do a long hike. I have no career, no house, no car, no pets, no children, no significant other. I'm young and in reasonably good shape. In the midst of my extended adolescence is the perfect time to be yet more unstable. My Peace Corps service was an emotional challenge, and now I want to do something that will be difficult in another way.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Wander Begins Somewhere

First of all, welcome to our Appalachian Trail blog. From time to time you’ll see a post from both Grace and John—trail names to come eventually—indicated by the AT Trekkers moniker seen below; the main content of this blog will, however, be individual posts from each of us. We hope you’ll enjoy reading and following our journey.

Let us introduce ourselves.

John is a 26 year-old gay guy now living in DC, but originally from Idaho. John’s spent a great deal of time hiking and camping in the rugged beauty that is Idaho, since hiking and camping are the regional pastimes of the West. He just moved to DC after finishing a Congressional campaign in New Mexico—sadly for him and all involved, a losing one—and is now working as a media monitor for a communications company until April.

Grace is 25 years old, currently living in New York, but a Rhode Islander born and bred. She spends her days answering the phone at a doctor’s office and daydreaming about being in the woods. When not working or traveling, she likes reading books and cooking fattening foods to feed to other people.

Both John and Grace recently returned from 2 years spent as Peace Corps volunteers in Armenia, which is where they met and became fast friends, seeing as they lived only a couple hours from each other. Grace plied John with incredibly delicious baked goods and John let Grace use his shower since she didn’t have running water in her village; a better basis for a friendship there never was.

Over the next several days you’ll see a post from both John and Grace, describing our reasons for hiking the Appalachian Trail; in other words, what foolishness got into our heads to make us hunger for 2200 miles of wilderness. We’ve already begun planning and gathering gear, reading books about the AT, plotting our mileage, working out to get our bodies as prepared as best we can, and making money to be able to afford to do this. It’s estimated that the trail costs somewhere between $2000 and $3000 each when all the gear, transport, and food is added up. It is not an inexpensive venture. Well, perhaps considering the amount of time we estimate to spend on it—4.5-5 months—it’s cheaper than living in either NYC or DC (where Grace and John live, respectively).

For those of you who don’t know much about the Appalachian Trail, it’s the nation’s most heavily trafficked footpath and its longest. Stretching from Georgia in the south to Maine in the north, it spans the Appalachian Mountains, coming in at around 2200 miles. Every year, a number of masochists like Grace and John start out in either the south or north and attempt to walk end to end; a good portion of those who start don’t finish, leaving the trail at some point. We, of course, intend not to give up partway through. Since we both lasted 2 years in the Peace Corps in Armenia, we feel that we’ve at least got the stubbornness quotient needed.

In the coming months and throughout the hike we’ll be posting a variety of things to this blog: gear lists; travel plans; our thoughts and emotions; pictures; videos; and more. Once on the trail we’re hoping to be able to post at reasonably regular intervals, as we will be bringing along an iPhone for video and pictures, and can also use it to draft posts. Hopefully, we’ll occasionally get a cell phone signal in towns to be able to utilize all that functionality.

Again, we are pleased to have you, our friends, family, and denizens of the internet, here reading about our journey. It’s an adventure we’re looking forward to, and one we want to share as much as we’re able.