Walken’

Powder River’s Appalachian Trail Journey from Georgia to Maine 2008

Archive for Preliminary

What a gift

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A little background here… I grew up in a state without a baseball team. But I love baseball. Because Wyoming has no MLB team, (or any professional sports, for that matter) most Wyomingites look to the Colorado Rockies. I for some reason have never been able to stand the Rockies. I do have a baseball team I hate in the New York Yankees, which is almost as good as having a team to love. But until recent years I never had a baseball team I could really call my home team. Then, in 2005, the Montreal Expos moved to Washington and became the Nationals. Finally, I had my own team. And it has been so exciting to be here on the ground floor for the first seasons of my new team.

One of the things I am REALLY going to miss during my hike is the Nationals, and this is made worse by the fact that this weekend they threw open the doors on their BRAND NEW STADIUM. I wanted to get tickets and go to the game Sunday, but we had to leave for the trailhead Saturday and it looked like there was no hope of seeing the new stadium before I left. However, because I just wanted to see it we walked over there before leaving town Saturday night to just see the new stadium and take a look around. They were holding and exhibition game Saturday against the Orioles, but there were no public tickets sold. This game was held just for season ticket holders and the construction workers, which by the way I think is extremely cool of them to do. I figured we would walk around the stadium and look longingly through the gates at all of those people eating hotdogs and wearing new curly-W hats. But when we were hanging out near the gate Mogo (my girlfriend’s trail name from her hike in ’98) asked some people exiting if we could have their tickets. We got in!

It is an amazing place. They have done a really great job with the new stadium. I love the location on South Capitol Street and the Anacostia. What a great send-off it was to be able to see a game before I head for the trail, and an incredible blessing of a night.

We’ve spent the weekend with some friends of Mogo’s and I’ll be on the trailhead tomorrow!

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Departure!

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I leave at any moment now for the AT. I am sitting on a curb with my backpack and all my other stuff waiting for my girlfriend to pick me up. I will be on the trail by Monday. She is a former thru-hiker so we are very blessed by that. I just said goodbye to my last tour group for a while, and what a wonderful bunch of kids. (Yeah bus 4!) From where I sit I can see several hundred cherry blossom trees in full bloom, but few tourists. Washington Channel is calm as a pond today, but there are few boats out. Downtown D.C. is a zoo today with all the people and their baby strollers. They use them like battering rams to charge their way through the crowds, with the kids inside wide-eyed with fear. Thankfully, I have found a quiet spot away from downtown.

There have been baseball fans arriving for the Nationals game that starts in an hour at the brand-new stadium. We are going to check that out before heading for Atlanta. It is weird having some time to sit and reflect on what I am about to embark upon. I was staring at my pack earlier and wondering if we are going to get along. It might be a long trip to Maine if we can’t.

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Don’t Give Up the Ship

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A couple of weeks ago I visited the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. They have a truly breathtaking campus and a really, really good tour through their visitors center. It was fascinating learning about the lives of the midshipmen and how so very different their experience is from your average college student. For many people the highlight of the Naval Academy is seeing the Chapel along with the crypt which contains the grave of John Paul Jones. It is a truly awesome sight, and as I understand his grave compares with that of Napoleon.However, for me, I was waiting for something different. In Memorial Hall is displayed perhaps the most famous flag in U.S. Navy history. “Don’t Give Up The Ship” were some of the last words of Captain James Lawrence as his frigate the USS Chesapeake was boarded by the British sailors of the HMS Shannon in 1813. His best friend was Commodore Oiver Hazard Perry who was about to go into action himself with a small fleet on Lake Erie. He had a blue flag made with the words “Don’t Give Up The Ship” and renamed his flagship to the USS Lawrence, for his fallen friend. What followed was one of the most famous battles in US Naval history and Perry would be victorious.I have been in love with ships since I was a little kid and I think if I were to join a service it would be the Navy. Seeing this flag in person shook me with the full power of its history and meaning. If the Naval Academy were nothing more than a small one room school and they had this flag on display I could not have been more pleased. I decided right then and there that this flag was going on my pack, as a patch. It will go with me from Springer to Katahdin, as a reminder to myself and others who see it that this is something worth doing and worth finishing.

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Got a place I can plug this in?

Time is getting short! I move out of my apartment within 2 weeks, then I am on the road for work for a month, then on the trail April 1. So basically I just have 2 weeks to get my stuff together and ready to go. For the most part I have all of my gear now. It has been fun going on a seemingly endless shopping spree for this new-fangled piece of kit or that. That really tickled my geek side, and not often do I get to justify such spending. I am not going for ultralight hiking here – my base pack weight should hover around 18 pounds. However, I am going as light as possible while still carrying a considerable amount of luxury items, which include 1.5 pounds of camera gear, a bible and about a pound for the phone, ipod and keyboard. Nothing like bringing high tech comfort into the woods! Of course, a lot of folks say this is missing the point of being in the wilderness.

I can certainly understand that point of view, in fact when I first heard of the concept of bringing an mp3 player I was really put off. However I don’t really consider the Appalachian Trail a wilderness. It is a 2,200 mile long park, convenient to half a dozen major cities and dozens of small towns. It has man made shelters, hostels and hotels for sleeping. It has grocery stores, post offices and a zoo. It has out houses and rest rooms. Showers and laundry can be had about every 5 days or so. It has pizza joints, all you can eat buffets and bars. There is cell phone coverage along some of the trail. It is not necessary to bring a map or even a compass on the trail.

That is not to say this will be easy. None of the stuff above, save the shelters and outhouses exist outside of the occasional encounter with a trail town. Once you go in the woods, you carry what you need or you starve or freeze. There are treacherous sections for footing, unpredictable weather and rattlesnakes. And none of the luxuries will do your walking for you. However, because of the conveniences and the sheer distance involved the AT has taken on less of a wilderness character to me and more of that of an odyssey. It seems only appropriate to take gear based upon on how useful it is to me. Because the AT has places to plug in my gadgets, they suddenly take on an even more utilitarian nature that should improve my use of time in towns, etc.

So am I going to walk down the trail hour after hour listening to mp3s? Heck no. I’m here to enjoy nature! But I’m glad it’ll be in my pack when I need it.

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Theodore Roosevelt’s climb of Katahdin

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I am reading “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt” by Edmund Morris and I really enjoyed this following section. I will quote parts of it directly and other parts summarize, as there are is a lot of material. Most of this can be found on page 96.

TR started taking trips to Aroostook county in Maine in 1878 to stay with a backwoodsman named Bill Sewall in Island Falls. Sewall and Roosevelt were a perfect match, as both were very vigorous outdoorsmen and loved to quote epic poetry as they made shot their prey in the woods. In the midst of his courtship with Alice Lee and his junior year at Harvard, TR took his third trip to Island Falls in late summer of 1879. It describes Katahdin as being about 40 miles away through some of the most intractible forest in northern Maine whose “silhouette massively dominated the western windows of Sewall’s cabin.” It says he wanted to climb it since he first saw it.

They prepared for two days and loaded up a wagon, and set off “southwest into a dank, dripping wilderness.”

“If nothing else, the events of the next eight days made Cutler withdraw his old doubts about Theodore’s stamina. Although conditions were wet and slippery, the young man effortlessly toted a forty-five pound pack up the ever-steepening mountain. Losing a shoe in a stream, he padded on in moccasins, which protected his feet ‘about as effectually as kid gloves.’ Yet despite the pain of tramping over miles of rain-slicked stones, he triumphantly reached the top with Sewall and Dow. Cutler and Emlen remained far below, in a state of collapse. That night, as the rain beat their tents and bedding into a sodden mess, Theodore noted in his diary: “I can endure fatigue and hardship pretty nearly as well as these lumbermen.””

As soon as they got back, the New Yorkers TR had brought with him left for Boston, exhausted. TR next convinced Sewall to underatake an expedition to the Munsungen Lakes by heavy, wooden dug-out canoe up the Aroostook River, which they had to portage often and drag through rapids and hack through beaver dams. The trip took 6 days and 50 miles each way. TR noted that the Munsungen trip made their trip to Katahdin look like “an absolute luxury.”

TR is one of my favorite presidents and I was thrilled to find this account. What a treat to know that Teddy Roosevelt, the most animated and vigorous man to ever live in the White House was drawn as a young man to the exact same place I am now drawn in the Maine wilderness. I will definitely remember this as I tote my 45 pound pack up that ever-steepening mountain!

And what a photograph! That’s Maine woodsmen Wilmot Dow, Bill Sewall and TR is on the right with the Burnside chops.

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Meredith Emerson

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As I’m sure you all know by now a hiker was kidnapped on new year’s day near the A.T. at Blood Mountain, Georgia. She was kept alive for 3 days in the back of a van before she was killed and then decapitated. Meredith Emerson was her name, and she was a beautiful 24 year old from my old back yard, Colorado. There is also an elderly couple who went missing on the A.T. in October, in North Carolina. The body of Irene Bryant has been found while her husband John is still missing. Finally, there is Cheryl Dunlap who was also a hiker murdered in Florida just before the holidays. It appears that they are going to charge the man who killed Meredith, Gary Micheal Hilton in the Florida case as well, and he is a prime suspect in the North Carolina case.

Obviously these events have rocked the hiking community quite a bit. Particularly the Emerson case, because of all the media coverage. The Appalachian Trail goes right over Blood mountain, and being just 28 miles from the start point I will hit it on day 3 or 4 of my hike. Undoubtedly that will be a tough place to pass. It is mind blowing to think that this kind of stuff can happen in the supposed haven of the woods. My heart and prayers go out to each of those families, and I am thankful that they have found the killer.

These events have raised big questions on the whole safety thing while hiking. Suddenly everyone is asking me if I’m going to carry a gun. One person asked me if I’m still planning on going. The hiking community forums are alive with posts on how to defend yourself when attacked, and one guy even asked what kind of sword would be best to carry. (The best, of course would be a cane sword like that guy in the movie Blind Fury. Duh.) In short, there are a lot of people freaking out.

This all has a very familiar ring to it. It seems there is a pattern in society, that whenever something bad happens we must overreact. However, it is important to keep reality in view here. These murders were likely done by just one person, who is now behind bars. Carrying a two pound gun is not going to protect you from Gary Micheal Hilton, because you won’t be seeing him on the trail any time soon. Besides, there is a lot of debate on just how to carry a gun on the trail. Since anybody you meet who wants to do you harm will probably attack you unawares, how in the world would you reach for your hidden piece in the bottom of your pack? It seems the only other option is to actually draw the gun on EVERY person you meet, just in case. Now that sounds like the safest way.

Buried somewhere in all of this nonsense and hysteria is probably some good, sound steps every one can take to stay safe. Like letting people know where you are going, how long you will be gone and so on. But unfortunately, we live in a world that is not completely safe. There have been something like 7 murders in the entire history of the A.T., before these. Considering the A.T. stretches for 2,175 miles and has millions of users each year, it seems that the Appalachian Trail is a lot safer than any city. The bottom line is, stuff can happen to you just as easy at the grocery store or at the movie theater. When something does happen to you, carrying that concealed pistol under the seat of your car or in the bottom of your pack probably isn’t going to help you a whole lot. Hikers have a lot more dangerous things to worry about, like hypothermia.

My prayers go to the families of the victims, and I hope they find peace.

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Origins

It’s hard for me to trace exactly where my desire to hike the A.T. came from originally. I have always had a love for New England, and in 2000 I worked at a summer camp for kids in the White Mountains. We climbed 9 mountains that summer, including Mt. Washington and Franconia Ridge. I definitely wanted to do the A.T. after that, but it probably goes back earlier than that.

In the summer of 1999, I worked in D.C. and we went camping in Shenandoah National Park. We hiked a small section of the white blazes on that trip. I also think this is when I read Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson.

In the last 18 months or so I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from my girlfriend, who is a former thru hiker and whose life was forever changed by the trail. She has had an enormous impact on me and her experience on the trail has been an inspiration. In June this last summer the reality of it hit me like a train, that I need to hike NOW, as in 2008. The feeling inside is that there may never be a better time.

For me this will be a great culmination of a dream I’ve had for some time. To do this I am having to make great sacrifices in my personal life, finances and professional world. I will be lots poorer and possibly in a less advantageous position at work when I come back. I will be gone for 6 months, from April through September. A lot can change in that time!

However, I am going on an enormous, epic adventure that may be a once in a lifetime chance. I will make lifelong friends, gain confidence, see places I never imagined were made, and even lose some weight. I am not guaranteed to make it, in fact only a small percentage of thru-hikers do. But God will be there, and I’ll be sure to ask him if he wouldn’t mind allowing me to get all the way to Maine. I’ll be sure to take some pictures along the way, and look forward to sharing this whole experience with you’alls.

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