Monday, June 21, 2010

General Facts

A.T. length: 2,178 miles (though this depends on who you ask)

65% are "Northbounders" or "NoBos" hiking Georgia to Maine.
10% are "SoBos."
5% are "Flip-floppers" who complete the trail in one trip, but with an alternate itinerary.
20% are "Section-hikers" who complete the trail in more than one trip. [Timothy Denherder Thomas, who graciously lent me his maps, is hiking the A.T. this style.]
562 people celebrated completion of the trail last year (in all manner of hiking approaches).
Then, there are "yo-yos," people who hike the whole thing one way, get to the end, and go back.
Think that's crazy?
Two girls hiked the whole thing barefoot.
And, one blind man is hiking this year, making a documentary of his trip.

To beat all this though, the first man I met fresh off the train station in Harper's Ferry is "Baltimore Jack." He's thru-hiked the A.T. 7 years in a row. You've got to wonder.

I've noticed thru-hikers think about, talk about, dream about food, all the time. A pbj is awesome on top of a mountain, but not 30 days in a row. Ramen, tuna, beans, get boring. Hikers play all sorts of tricks to spice up their food--for instance, I'm carrying button bags of salt, pepper, oregano, cumin, and cinnamon--but there's simply no kitchen. Basically, hiking food is good ideas of food processed and put in a bag. Case in point: I had cheesecake for breakfast yesterday. Sounds good, right? But freeze-dried anything is just never going to be all that appetizing.

The most popular A.T. hiker foods:
1. peanutbutter
2. raisins
3. Snickers
4. beef jerky

One fellow hiker I met today, Jeff, directed me to his blog. I quote his most recent entry:
"Ah yes. Snickers. THE food of thru hikers. Most likely, one would be hard pressed to find a thru that does not know the nutrition facts of a Snickers bar by heart. (Since you’re wondering: 280 calories, 130 from fat, 4g protein, 14g total fat, 5g sat fat, 140 mg Sodium…)

This magical bar out-shines most energy bars in terms of straight up calories per ounce. AND they are an excellent entertainment source. Mars, Incorporated has developed a series of terms relating to snickers and their goodness in order to better market their product; terms such as substantialicious (noun: The weight of something when you weigh it with your tongue.). I, of course, know these by heart. I strive to use them in my everyday speech. Word-of-the dayers I suggest you add these to your repertoire."

He's right. Even I, in my one month of hiking, know about the grandeur of a Snickers.

Also, a word about my pesco-vegetarian status...
I've rocked beans, nuts, legumes, and fish for 9.5 years. However, the Giardia episode seemed to reset my whole digestive system, and all I wanted was a BLT. So, three days ago, I ordered one. And it was perfect. (I admit I half-expected it was going to start talking to me, though.) I don't think I'll go on a carnivorous rampage--though who knows--but I think we should eat what our bodies ask for. Hence, bacon?

Ok, that's all for now

Great Company, Rough Conditions

Well, no more Giardia jokes.

I couldn't have been much sicker and lived. I guarantee you that you don't want to know the details, but I will say this: purify your water. As romantic as it sounds to drink water straight from a mountain's spring, it's simply not safe. Last week, I stumbled into Port Clinton, dehydrated, starved, vomiting, *cough,* 10 lbs lighter, and my vision swirling.

I'm not sure I know the words to express my experience of receiving letters that day. I sat outside on the cement steps of the little post office jamming chocolate in my face, greedily opening letters and the box of food I had prepared for myself before I left. My family had spruced up the box with letters and chocolate and almonds and Walden. It was better than Christmas.

I carried everything back to the Port Clinton Hotel, up to a tiny room above the bar. I took off my shoes, surrounded myself with these treasures, ate more chocolate, and fell asleep. And I slept. Boy, did I sleep. When I woke, I read everything again. Finally I emerged and went across the street to explore the candy store. (There's no grocery store in town, just a candy shop, barber, and bar/"hotel".) The place is floor to ceiling, candy. An old woman runs the place, and I thought she'd enjoy her work, but she was like the witch in Hansel and Gretel. Turns out she doesn't even like candy. I asked, and she said she only likes spaghetti. I'm serious. Just spaghetti. When I get old, if I only like spaghetti, I don't want people questioning me about it, so I didn't push the issue. I just bought more chocolate, since it seemed to be helping with the Giardia, and then scurried out along my way.

The following day, I tentatively set out again. My own condition had improved, but Pennsylvania's terrain, begrudgingly known as "Rockslyvania," had not. The rocky trail waits hoping to twist, sprain or break hikers. It is the land where shoes go to die. There are some bouldering sections, such as "The Knife Edge" yesterday, where choice words are uttered. Some sections, I have to sit down and slide along slowly. Some sections, I sit down and just say "No." I'm not sure to whom. We hikers all wonder whose bad idea it was to run the trail through these miles of raggedy boulders.

Fortunately, I've met Charlie/ "Ramblin Rick," a retired Georgian. He has a charm all his own, and I've greatly enjoyed his companionship. We became friends when I sat down at a shelter across from him and said, "I'm interested in your stove," which was a hole-punched a tuna fish can. We got to talking and then kept bumping into each other over the next few days. Now, a week later, we have a fun rapport, and I'll miss him when he gets off the trail this weekend.

The other memorable hiker I've befriended is "Pop". He had been hiking with "Snap" and "Crackle", but then stayed on an extra week while Kristin R met up with me. The three of us had a great adventure, but I stopped feeling well halfway through that week. Pop helped me get to the hospital when Giardia had taken over, and then took heart-breakingly good care of me as I waited for the antibiotics to kick in. He bought me yogurt and probiotics, and he told me funny jokes and stories as I was shaking with fever. Heck, he even did my laundry! A perfect stranger took care of me the way my grandparents take care of each other. It still seems unreal. What are the chances I'd meet someone like Pop as I grew sick? I don't know, but I'm grateful for these magical coincidences. I feel I need to pass these gifts, love and generosity, on.

Whew. Let me finish with today: BEAR! and HITCH HIKE! Two scary things in two hours. So now I'm wiped out and looking forward to holing up with Thoreau for the rest of the day. I'm staying in the basement of the city borough hall, free for A.T. hikers, across the road from this practically one-room library. I'm meeting up with Anna F in Delaware Water Gap in a few days, and hope to be in Unionville, NJ by July 1. If you'd like to mail me, please address to:

Julia Tyler
General Delivery
Unionville, NJ 10988
Please Hold for Thru-Hiker ETA: July 1

Again, thank you for your letters. I adore them. Especially because I am alone most days, your words have heightened importance and love in my eyes.

Happy Summer Solstice!


Monday, June 7, 2010

First 10 days

have been terrific! I am truly living my dream. I am gleeful even when I am smelly, tired, being eaten by mosquitoes, whatever. The novelty "I am hiking the Appalachian Trail... I am still hiking the Appalachian Trail.... Woah, I am on the friggin Appalachian Trail..." has not worn off.

In West Virgina I met a young man thru-hiker named Sonic. I wish I could hike 33 mile days with him just for his cheery company--he's a regular BFG (Big Friendly Giant)--but I can't. I'm pleased if I hike 12-15 miles in a day at this point. Sonic hopes to reach Mt. Katahdin in Maine on his one year anniversary of being sober. He has been through a lot, and this journey is part of his rehabilitation process. I respect him a great deal. He knows things I never will.

I'll remember Maryland as one gigantic wedding, or celebration of all weddings ever performed. Miles and miles of Laurel flowers, white blossomy puffs, grace the A.T. and as luck would have it, are in their full glory this week. Walking through it, especially alone, is dreamy. There's no other word for it. Dewy, translucent spiderwebs span the trail in the mornings and stick to my arms and legs and face as I push through them. I saw a hummingbird and a coyote close up; I walked two feet away from a tiny fawn that sunk into the grass to hide rather than run away from me; I talked to a turtle on the trail whose vivacious, neon orange body startled me from under its dreary gray shell; I gasped four times for each of the snakes I've seen.

Now, I'm here in Pennsylvania. I have officially accepted the name "N.P." (for "No Promises"), named by a gentleman known as "Little Brown." It came about because so many people asked if I was thru-hiking, and eventually my curt reply was "No promises." Little Brown laughed and said, "Hey, N.P." And that was that. Better than the alternatives. For example, some older woman said, "You should be Sunshine. You are such a Sunshine." Let me remind you, I am a Solo Woman hiker. I may as well be named Bambi. For a little while, I was tempted to go by "Smelly Feet" or "Giardia" (the nasty contaminated water disease), as an attempt to ward off unwanted interest. But you are supposed to be named by someone else, and N.P. is probably the best name for me anyway.

At this point, June 201o, the A.T. is the only place I want to be. I am at the infamous Doyle Hotel (an old, old, crumby hostel popular among A.T. hikers for its cheapness and proximity). I am showered, laundered, fortified by beautiful letters, and stocked up with groceries for this next week. How could I ask for more?

Thank you again for the wonderful letters and for all your love.