The Trail Stooge Has Been Busy

Sir Stooge has had a hectic past two weeks and has not had the chance to blog. He will update us as soon as things settle and he finds a town that knows about the world wide web.

I will also be writing a guest blog sometime soon about my personal experience on the trail with this man.

– Solitaire

Trail Update #12 – Post Harper’s Ferry

Oh my goodness! The Trail Stooge has been the Slacking Stooge lately. So my last blog post was right before I left Harper’s Ferry. Awesome time there. It has been a while since then, so I’ll try to blog what has occurred over a few entries, that may not be chronologically ordered, due to my brain being overburdened with memories.

So as my colleague, Solitaire, has mentioned, I have been quite busy. My business has been primarily due to several visits as well as a health scare (not a major one, so no worries). And thank you Solitaire, your company was much appreciated. And yours as well Scuba Springsteen.

So, let’s start with one of the first major events that followed my departure from Harper’s Ferry. That event occurred soon after, and was the official half-way point. Right around the official half-way was what is called the “Half Gallon Challenge.” So it’s a nice little play on words – half gallon for half way. It’s honestly pretty disgusting, and I felt terrible after I was done, but it’s a necessary thing to do. Here I am displaying my trophy for completing the challenge. It’s a little ice cream stick. Pretty awesome trophy according to me:

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And here’s my buddy Wash struggling through the challenge. He did straight Vanilla – terrible choice. His got all melty and disgusting half way through. I went with the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough – much better choice.

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One of the more brutal stretches I encountered was the cold nights. Like a fool, I sent my +20 sleeping bag home at Harper’s Ferry. And much to my chagrin, the temperature dropped drastically for three nights or so. One night, I heard it dropped into the high 40’s. Obviously, I could not sleep in those conditions. So for three nights straight, I rose early and began hiking. Early for a hiker was 2 am. So I was a very sleepy hiker, but it was better than being awake and freezing cold in my tent.

All I had was a silk sleeping bag liner. One night I attempted to McGyver a bunch of my random pieces of gear. I filled one trash bag with dead leaves to use as a blanket, and put the other over my feet. It succeeded somewhat at keeping me a little warm, but it definitely didn’t work well. I think I slept ‘til 1:50 that night – the latest I slept during that stretch. Here’s me in the early morning hours of one of those nights:

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The day following my last freezing cold night, my parents came to visit me in Boiling Springs, PA! It was a blast. I got good food and drink, and they got to hang out and meet some of my friends who I’ve been with along the trail. Patches (female Patches), Indy, and Hummingbird were all hanging out. Then Sunday morning, we hiked out of Boiling Springs for eight miles. Mom and Dad did great. The AT was nothing compared to the Camino! Here we are strolling around Pennsylvania. We heard tons of gunshots that day, as I did throughout all of PA. It was certainly an interesting trot through the state:

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And alas, badness had to come eventually to my travels. While my parents were visiting, I noticed a circular rash on my leg that eventually turned into a full-blown bullseye. Luckily, I caught it early and was able to get antibiotics into my system early. It was kind of a crazy two days as I scrambled around town with Dad to get to the ER (it was a Sunday), then get to the pharmacy, then get hiking! The day after I noticed the rash, I felt terrible. Achy, feverish, and generally miserable. Here’s the rash at it’s worst:

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Pretty crazy looking. And it was a major scare. But my mind got the best of me. Just a few days ago I called the hospital to get the results of my blood titer (to see if I had antibodies against the Lyme). And much to my surprise, I tested negative for any Lyme. So who knows what I felt that day when I felt terrible – it was all in my brain I believe. But the good news is, no Lyme, and no further issues. I have a clean bill of health.

So that is not all that has happened since I left Harper’s Ferry. My good friend Solitaire is going to write a post about his travels with me in the coming days. But before he does that, I want to leave you with this image. Keep it in your mind, and dream of it at night. It is me, pretending to ski jump off a mountain:

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Trail Update #13 – Solitaire’s Ugly Face

Solitaire!! Don’t make me come out there and give you a thrashing for not putting your hiking post up! You must share your experience with everyone (I shouldn’t be saying that after only having one post in about three weeks). Get on your horse Solitaire!

So as many of you probably don’t know, Solitaire is a person very close to me. And obviously, Solitaire is his trail name. I also had a few others come out to visit me. Namely The Googan, Scuba Springsteen, and Joe Don the Megaladon. The Googan’s trip has already been rehashed in a previous post (Matt is The Googan). Scuba Springsteen came out with Solitaire, and I will be posting about Joe Don the Megaladon’s trip in due time.

But for those of you who need a clue about who Solitaire really is, here’s a picture of him:

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Solitaire, this is your last warning! If you don’t post your update, I’ll continue to post amazingly weird pictures of you for all to see!

Now that my baseless threats are done with, I’ll move on to some other things that I have been slow on reporting. As you know, the first half of my trip only went through five states (Georgia, N. Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia). Most of it, roughly 500 miles, was through Virginia. It almost gets to the point where if feels like you’re not going anywhere in Virginia. It’s a somewhat tough section due to the psychological aspect of being in a single state for that long. A lot of people wind up slightly losing their minds during this stretch. But once you leave Harper’s Ferry, the states just absolutely fly by! Believe it or not, since leaving the half-way point, I have gone through Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and I am about halfway through Massachusetts. Hitting all those milestones has made this portion of the trip a bit more easy from that standpoint. Here are some of my border crossing pictures (unfortunately, some borders aren’t signed):

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Crossing into New Jersey was a lot more invigorating than I had thought it would be. Because I was actually closer to home in PA, I thought crossing into NJ would just kind of be moot. But it was a great psychological boost for me. It was really neat to cross the Delaware and get back to NJ. Every milestone along the journey is a great one, but getting back home (although it was way up in north Jersey), was a great feeling. It was something special. Unfortunately, the picture didn’t capture the feeling I was having. Yes, this is the best picture I have of me crossing into NJ.

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But let me get back to my time in Pennsylvania first. So you need to understand a little bit about how much thru hikers hear about the dreaded rocks of Pennsylvania. I mean, literally, I’ve been hearing about these dang rocks since the Smokies. The Rocks of PA, Rocksylvania, etc, etc, etc. Everybody talked about these dang rocks. So I had this conception of crossing into PA from Maryland, and somehow the whole landscape would change. I’d go from nice smooth stuff, to rocks galore. Which obviously didn’t happen. It turns out, I actually enjoyed about 75% of PA – it was nice. However, the last 25% or so was absolutely dreadful. The rocks finally made themselves manifest. It was just walking on completely exposed, completely irregulary shaped rocks. It was absolutely terrible. I probably dropped my miles per hour to the lowest I’ve walked on the whole trail, somewhere around sub two miles per hour. It’s just horrible. You can’t go fast, and your feet hurt. But at least I finally figured out what all those people were talking about.

And, like the genius that I am, I decided to pull my longest day over all the dreadful rocks of PA. Yes I have pulled off a 34 mile day! Let me explain my reasons for doing so first, in an attempt to rationalize my somewhat masochistic actions. But first, here I am midday through my 34. There was this cool painting on the side of an rock after a nice climb:

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So, after leaving Solitaire and Scuba Springsteen, I was twenty or so miles behind a lot of my buddies – namely Indy, Hotshot, and Patches. So obviously, I wanted to catch them up. Unfortunately, my push to catch them up occurred right around where the rockiness began. So I began my day planning on doing about 20+ miles – a solid day. However, as I was texting my friends after leaving Solitaire and Scuba, I realized that they were actually a bit closer than I had originally thought, so I upped my plan to about 25 to 30 miles in order to close the gap a bit more. However, at about mile 28 or so, I was very low on water. I checked my guide book to see where my next source was – only a mile or so, all good, but about a half mile off the trail. Ok, fine, I’ll get my water, and then I’ll camp near the spring. That’s fine. I’m cool with a 29 or 30 mile day – that’s great.

So I trek straight downhill the half mile to the spring. As I approached, I saw the sign for the spring, but something was not right – and it was the sound. I heard no moving water. The spring had run dry, as well as my water bottle – brutal. So after a minute or two of staring at a dry spring, I walked the half mile back up to the trail. The next water source was a shelter, about four or five miles away. And I tell you, I think I would have walked ten more miles for some water at that point. This thirst is one of the most intense sensations I’ve felt on the trail. So I strapped my headlamp on (it was a bit after dark at that point), and began my five mile trek over the rocks to the shelter. Now, as you know, I obviously made it to the shelter and completed my 34 mile day. I drank about three liters once I got to the shelter. It was delicious water.

However, I need to tell you about what happened in the five miles from leaving the dry spring to indulging in the beautiful water of the shelter. Looking back at it now, it is hilarious. But I must say, I got the absolute biggest fright I have had in many years during my night hike to the shelter. I’ll try to explain a little about how I feel when I night hike. I’ve spoken to other hikers about this, and some feel the same way, so I don’t think it’s just my insane brain. I dislike night hiking immensely. And I’m talking about PM night hiking. I love hiking in the dark in the AM. For some reason, they have completely different feels to me. But anyway, talking about PM night hiking here. It is just a very bizarre experience. Honestly, I feel drugged while night hiking. Everything seems to swim in front of your eyes – there is only the single light source from your lamp that bounces around the trees – you are looking down at the path the whole time with no peripheral vision. And then of course, tack on the inherent fear of the dark and the night. With all those aspects, I have this sense of dread that sits in the back on my mind whenever I night hike.

So of course, some guy in a hammock had to scare the life out of me. I was just trucking along the trail, head down, focusing on the rocks, and my footing, and the lighting. And next thing I know, I hear the frantic yelling of a man who sounds like he is dying of fear. It’s this dreadful series of inhalations and muted yells, as though he is coming to slowly realize that something terrible is happening to him – which in fact he was. I looked up to see this:

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Just kidding. I did not see Solitaire out there again. Solitaire is a weirdo, but he doesn’t scream in the middle of the woods for fun at night. What happened was this poor guy, hammocked up only about five feet off the trail, had been having a nightmare when I came by. His yells were one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever experienced. Obvsiouly, I had no idea what was going on. When I heard the yells, I could tell they were amazingly close to me, and when I looked up, all I could really see was something writhing around in a hammock about ten feet from me.

I now understand how people can go into shock from fear. I literally felt like I was in my own nightmare. I remember speaking to him, repeatedly saying “It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok.” But my words were choked, and I can’t recall doing anything but repeating those words with one hand outstretched to him, I think primarily in a defensive posture. Horrifying – absolutely horrifying – for both him and me. I got the chills from this poor guy’s yells that stayed with me for a while after leaving him.

Turns out, this poor guy has knee issues, and he takes some meds to help him sleep at night, and which obviously cause him to have some vivid dreams. Once he kind of completely woke up (it took him about five seconds – all the while yelling like a dying man), he was very nice and apologetic. It was just one of the most awkward departures I’ve ever had from anyone. He said sorry, we both regained our composure, and I turned to walk away. As I was leaving, he hilariously said, “Well, maybe I’ll see you tomorrow!” I never saw him again – not sure if that’s a good or bad thing. But anyway, that was by far the most terrifying experience I’ve had on the trail. Horrifying.

So sorry to go on such a long winded story about my most scared moment in years (it doesn’t sound all that scary when I type it up), but I had to share.

Next up, I’ll have a pretty awesome account of my hiking with Joe Don the Megaladon. I’ll also share his account of it that he wrote every night via Facebook. His account is amazing, so tune it.

The Esteemed Stooge, Sir Charles Guilons, signing off.

 

Alone

So a lot of people are kind of baffled, or weirded out when I tell them that I hike alone. They ask me how I do that – how I spend all that time by myself, utterly alone. My standard cookie cutter answer (you tend to have a lot of them in your back pocket when you hike the AT – it’s not a bad thing, you just get a lot of the same questions) is something like, “Well I’m not alone all the time. There’s people that kind of bounce in and out, and you see them here and there. And you hike a little bit with them. But yea, for the most part you are alone.” And that is completely true, even though it is a bit of a boxed answer.

But the deeper truth is something a bit more difficult to articulate in thirty seconds to the questioner. The deeper truth is much more difficult for me even to understand, even though I know it to be true.

I’ve struggled over writing this post for some time now. And I didn’t want to write it too early, because I wanted to make sure what I was thinking and feeling was not of a whim. So bear with me as I try to write this down. It may not come across as eloquently and clearly as I have thought it through in my head. But hopefully some sense, at least, comes through.

The deeper truth is that I am not alone. Yes, there are times when I do feel isolated. Not physical isolation – that I can deal with. I’m talking about platonic isolation. I feel, in effect, isolated and alone in my core. One of the most memorable times this happened was the day after Solitaire and Scuba Springsteen left. I missed home a bit, and I missed my friends and family, and I was a ways behind my trail friends. It was a rough day. So yes, there are definitely tough times at some points. But more importantly, these times are fleeting, and they are few. They are a rut in the mind to be broken out of. They are something to be thought on, understood, and then overcome.

I know there is a deeper knowledge and a deeper truth that I sometimes understand when I am out there. It is not often, and it is as fleeting as my sad times, but it is more true.

Even in physical loneliness, there is sometimes a frame of mind that I see through that shows me that I am never alone. It is difficult to explain in text, or articulate in words, but it is there. When you have a lot of time to think about the world, and the cosmos, and what every thing, every object, every piece of matter, is in the world, you come to see something deeper than these ‘things.’ There is something more, something that resembles more of nothingness, that is part of everything and not part of anything. But it is the one thing the whole of our beings, and the whole of the cosmos share in common. It is not love as we know it today, but it is an energy that we all share. An understanding of empathy that we, along with every other piece of creation, are all part of this experience that we understand as the unfolding universe.

So when I first started my journey, I took my Grandfather’s Yanks hat with me. It was kind of a memento – something to hold on to on tougher days. And it was a way to keep my Grandfather with me who passed a couple of years ago. But as I’ve thought of these things more, and the place of mere matter like a Yankees hat, I’ve come to understand that I don’t need the hat to have my Grandfather.

We always tend to focus on ‘some thing’ nowadays in order to be happy or find a solution. Initially for me, it was my Grandpa’s hat. But what I’ve found is that things are not the answer. There is this amazing ‘no thing’ that binds each and every piece of creation in the cosmos. A nothing that was there before the cosmos came into being, and will be there when it is over. And that great Nothingness is what we all share and what we all somehow experience, in one way or another. It’s an amazing duality that doesn’t make sense – I know it doesn’t make sense. But I love it for what it is. It’s a chance to experience what we have in front of us, to cherish every piece of matter, every object we come to know, but to also realize that all these things somehow sprung forth out of a nothingness. It’s a great feeling when I am able to wrap my mind around it – this connection that all things have. But like I said, I only see it sometimes, in beautifully fleeting moments.

So why do I hike alone? I don’t hike alone – nobody does. Nobody lives alone, nobody dies alone, nobody does anything alone. We’re all part of something amazing, the monumental journey of the universe itself. You can not walk alone in such an extraordinary event – it is impossible.

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