Tuesday, July 19, 2011

We're Having a Heat Wave, a Fourth Tropical Heat Wave

There are so many reasons that this hike has been intensely difficult,
and why I've thought so many times about cutting it short. One of the
big ones is the sheer intensity of the heat this year. The temperature
has ramped up significantly yet again, as well as the humidity, as I'm
sure most of you have seen in forecasts over the last week or so. I
hiked up 700 feet from Hawk Mountain Road (after getting a hitch in a
cop car from Hamburg, by the way) and the heat and humidity were like
a punch in the face. I wasn't sure I was going to make it up the hill.

The biggest issue is that this isn't the first heat wave I've had to
hike through this year. Instead, it's been heat wave after heat wave,
all including massive amounts of humidity. The weather is sucking the
life out of me. I talked to a friend yesterday and told him to just
come down to PA from VT to pick me up and take me north. I was only
maybe 25% joking. I'm considering pretty seriously doing a flip-flop,
or just actually getting that ride from somewhere slightly closer to
VT (like, 100 miles closer?), hanging in VT for a bit, and then just
continuing on from there. I keep spending way too much money in towns
because I just don't want to go back outside, and my own financial
situation is starting to get dicey.

Basically, I'm a shitty hiker is what I'm saying.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Flying Solo...Well, Perhaps Hobbling Solo

I have been slow. Sooooo slow. Since Grace left I've done 15-16 mile days, but I've done exactly two of them, back to back out of Harper's Ferry, and then zeroed at a hostel. The next day I did 5 miles. The day after that, 7.3. But I'm in Duncannon! Because I yellow blazed here for a hiker feed. 75 miles of yellow blazing; that's hitchhiking, for you non-hiker folk. You dear, gentle, clean, sane people.

I've been adjusting since Grace left. I had, and still have, mixed feelings about being on my own now. Grace was, in many ways, a fantastic hiking partner. We're great friends, and have the same level of maturity when it comes to humor and conversation: read, none. It was an endless stream of "that's what she/he said jokes," with conversations about men, life, and free will thrown in to mix things up. She did a lot of planning, both before the trip and day to day to figure out where we were going at any given time; but, I have a tendency to feel cooped up after spending so long with a person or with people. I need alone time, and to be able to make my own decisions without thinking about others. I felt, by the end of that two and a half months together, that it was a bit like being in a relationship, but without some of the good parts that keep you together. So, I was both sad and glad to see Grace leave.

Every time I either say or write that I feel like a total douche. This was, after all, Grace's trip when it came down to it. I'm here because she wanted to be here, and now I'm the one still here. I knew that telling her how I felt might push her to decide to leave. I think that if I hadn't thought that she was ready to be done, or at least very close to being ready to be done, I wouldn't have said anything. Everything that she was saying in our discussions about getting back on the trail after DC, however, led me to believe that this really wasn't where she wanted to be, and that the only thing keeping her going was guilt. So, I did the selfish thing, the thing that I wanted to do, which was to tell her how I felt, and see if that would push her over the line. I almost never feel guilty, but I still feel guilty about that; what's done is done, though, and here I am.

I have definitely been blazing a different path since our parting. As I said earlier, I haven't actually hiked all that much in the last week. I've hiked about 45 miles total in the last week, and then skipped 70-something miles, reeled in by another hiker friend to a hiker feed here in Duncannon. That was quite a day of hitching, too. It was relatively easy to get a ride from where the trail crossed Rte. 16 over to Rte. 15. After that, however, was not so easy. I stood on the first on-ramp for about an hour and a half, building up a nice, crisp sunburn, before a man and his wife picked me up. I hopped in the back of their truck, cuddling up to the lawnmower and the old typewriter so that I could keep my head down and not get pulled over by cops.

Did I mention the words "first on-ramp" already? Yes, yes I did. Because they only took me about 15 miles before getting off at their exit. Apparently...oh, who am I kidding? Obviously I look homeless; when they dropped me off the man asked me why I was going to Duncannon, and if I had a place to stay when I got there, and if I needed any money. It's nice to know I'm giving off the "this man needs serious help" vibe. After explaining to them that I was a thru-hiker and that I had plenty of money but thank you so much anyway, they turned right and drove off home. I looked both ways before crossing the road...and then looked left again as I crossed over to the on-ramp where a state trooper car was sitting, waiting for soon-to-be-surprised speeders. I waved at him, he waved back, and I set my pack down. As soon as I put my thumb out for the first car to pass me without stopping the Trooper pulled up to me and rolled down the window for a little chat (no, not the "blow me or I'll arrest you" chat). The first thing he told me was that it was technically not legal to be hitching there, but then asked me where I was going. After explaining to him where I was going and why, and being disappointed because he couldn't take me much more than a couple miles, he mentioned again that it was technically not legal for me to be hitching there, but that he wasn't going to bother me; I was delighted to see him drive away without me in handcuffs in the back.

Sadly, I then had to take stock of where I was, which was not a good place for a hitchhiker to take stock of. This was an exit to a tiny little town, meaning that I wasn't going to be in much luck of a quick ride. So, I made sure I was in as good a spot as possible, and returned to crisping my now sunburned face (I did, finally, think to put on the sunblock that I had sitting in my pack; I'm not always quick on the uptake). Hour one passed with maybe 15 cars passing me by. Maybe 15. A bazillion motorcycles, however, for all the good those did me. After another half hour I was getting desperate, and started searching furiously for any piece of paper or cardboard large enough to write a sign on. No such luck. So, I used the only thing I could find: 

A piece of bark that had fallen off a log. Okay, yes, I officially crossed over into looking utterly homeless at that point. But, after another half an hour, it got me a ride!

So, here I am. Not much hiking done in the last week, but still about 125 miles farther than I would be. Hopefully I should settle back into a hiking rhythm of my own making soon; surely, I will. On to Maine!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Home, Sweet Home?

It's official. I'm off the trail. I don't like saying that. In fact, I'd kind of like to disappear to a place where no one knows me and I can pretend that I didn't just "fail" at my next big adventure.

I know some of you won't consider it a total failure. Plenty of people have been telling me that it's about the journey, not the destination. That I accomplished something by hiking 750 miles, that a quarter of the Appalachian Trail is farther than most people get. That I should hike only as far as I want and to hell with everyone else's opinions.

In a better world, I would be able to guilt myself into continuing. I'm a big believer in duty, sticking to your word, and forcing yourself to do things you don't want. I feel as though I let myself and a lot of other people down because I don't have the strength to force myself right now.

Part of the reason that I left the trail is financial. I'm scraping the bottom of my money barrel. I got back from Armenia 11 months ago, and moved back to New York, which, in retrospect, was not the best decision. I was unemployed for two months, and resorted to charging everything on my credit card. I've been doing the same thing for most of the hike, and, while I still have some money, it is beyond time for me to get a job.

The other main reason for ending my hike is that I feel ready to move on (which is a new-agey way of saying that I'm bored). As John said in a previous post, anything looks more appealing than hiking right now. Finding a dead-end job to pay off my credit card bills seems more enticing. That probably says something about my readiness to complete this hike.

I've given up on the goal of hiking all 2,181 miles this year. It's difficult to admit, but I've moved on from what I wanted three months ago. Or, I've modified my goal. I do want to keep hiking the trail. I'd like to some day be able to say that I hiked the whole thing. I may even do some more hiking this year. But I'll never be a thru-hiker.

John is continuing the hike by himself. I'll still be contributing to this blog, since I feel I have some more things I could say about this experience.

To the people who supported this venture, with their gifts, kind words, trail magic, care packages, and money, thanks for believing in this adventure. I'm incredibly grateful to everyone who helped me make this hike a reality. Sorry it didn't turn out the way I'd planned.