Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Journal: What do thru hikers do when they get together?

What do two thru hikers do when they get together?

Tough question. After all, they have backpacked for a long time. They love the outdoors. Nothing inspires them quite like sunrise from a mountaintop. Being out in the wilderness with cuddly bears, cute raccoons, fleet deer, and smelly hikers is what they do. It's in their souls. So of course we watched some holiday movies. Silly ones.

And then we went backpacking.
Stealth site on the ridge in New Jersery.

Our target was the ridge north of the Mohican Outdoor Center. I remembered a fantastic camp site at this location from my thru hike. But I didn't stay last time.

This time, I had company in the form of Sweet and Ayda, Sweet's Shetland Sheepdog. I think we were each more excited for Ayda than we were for ourselves. It was Ayda's first camping experience. She hikes with Sweet for short distances but she has had health trouble and she is getting older.

So we parked at the Mohican Outdoor Center where I said hello to the manager (who was not expected to remember me from my thru hike and who did not remember me) and we set off northbound on the AT. The day was cloudy and dim with rain threatening.

Ayda in her yellow jacket following Sweet in her yellow jacket on the ridge top.

Climbing up the ridge was a Herculean task for Ayda. Her two human companions were merciless with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy. But they were founts of encouragement too, and Ayda would do anything for Sweet. Even hike up that hill. The best part is that Ayda was greatly enjoying herself; she loves to be out hiking.

Since this was a rainy Sunday afternoon I expected the trail to be vacant. Quint at Mohican Outdoor Center had even said that it had been a busy weekend but everyone left. On top of the ridge Sweet was surprised by saying hello to Biggie Smalls and Uhaul, two SOBOs she knew from Gorham. Yes, two SOBOs. In New Jersey in December. Amazing isn't it? Good luck and good trails to them!

Foggy trail
We didn't have much trail to do ourselves: Ayda tired out so we camped at one of the three stealth sites we found, short of the target but meeting our objective. And then it was time for good thru hiker friendship in camp - tent bound because of rain. The diet of wine, clementines, chocolate, and hot chocolate with marshmallows may not have been the healthiest. And no one should be forced to hear the music I tortured out of the ukulele. It wasn't that bad I guess: Sweet didn't run away and Ayda never howled. It was fun for each of us to just plunk away. And the poetry was good; who doesn't want to listen to The Raven cliffside in a tent? Even if we had to look up some of the more obscure references.

The morning was damp but not raining and included a wall of fog off the edge of the cliff. Hiking out, Ayda's paw pad bled from the stress of walking on all the rocks. So it was a good thing we didn't go too far. But Ayda handled it like a champ and is officially a trail dog, getting her first taste of thru hiker insanity. I wonder what she thought of the ukulele.
Trail's end
The day after backpacking with Sweet and Ayda I had the fortune of visiting my friend who has accomplished a thru hiker mentality without ever thru hiking. Yong went to graduate school at Rutgers; we met there for an afternoon and evening. We hadn't seen each other for some time so there was a lot to talk about. What struck me is that he has undergone a transformation - almost like a thru hiker's transformation. What matters to him is living a worthwhile life. He has chosen to do this with long laborious study to work to fix people's bodies. The trials that he has to go through to act on his meaning don't bother him. Kudos to him.

Since I have come back from the trail people reach out to me to tell me their life stories and ambitions and I am often struck by how close many people are to acting on what is meaningful in their lives. Sometimes it's not complete and usually it is a struggle. But they understand what is meaningful for them and they are working on it. Small steps or big steps, they take those steps. 

Thru hiking is not necessary to achieve transformation. It simply speeds the process up and makes it easier by removing all distractions. All it takes is an open mind and thoughtful consideration of what is important. Most people would benefit from a thru hike. But what matters is what goes on in a person's soul. I am thankful that my friends try to live lives of meaning.

And I'll close by pointing you to the poem "Live with intention" by Mary Anne Radmacher. 


Ayda in a tent!


  1. I just decided to check out your blog while taking a break from my work, and here, I see my name and a post about me!
    I am so glad that you think of me as hiker :)
    I would like to meet up with you before you leave to Oregon if possible.