These are the final entries I made on the Trailjournals page, only days before leaving Pennsylvania to get dropped off in Georgia.
My expectations of what I’d find on the Trail were on point.
At 20 years old I laid it all out here in fine, in melodramatic fashion.
I was trying to live a life like I saw in the movies, at every sentimental turn.
The last entry was piously titled “Farewell.”
Maybe it wasn’t so melodramatic after all – I was correct in guessing that my life wouldn’t be same after this trip.
Celebrate, We Will – March 17, 2001
“Celebrate, we will, ’cause life is short but sweet for certain” -Dave Matthews, from the song “Two Step”
March 17, 2001… a day as good as any.
It also happens to be only eighteen more days until I’ll first set foot on a rugged, beaten path in the mountains of Georgia. There are a million feelings swirling around in my head at this point. Excitement, anxiety, impatience, nervousness, exhilaration, sudden fearful panic – you name it. I’m going to be living in the woods for the foreseeable future. What the heck do I think I’m doing?
I’ve lived nearly every day of my life with the security of so many things – a comfortable bedroom to retreat to every night, an endless supply of running water, heat and air conditioning, hot water, a washer and dryer, a stocked refrigerator, basic electricity, telephones, automobiles, cable television, tons of great music available to listen to… soon it will all be stripped away.
It will just be me, what I can carry on my back, the open sky and country, and whatever bliss or punishment the trail dishes out to me.
It will surely be a shock at first, to just throw myself out there, to be suddenly deprived of all the things I’m accustomed to in life.
But after a little while, I imagine, I’ll learn to find myself at ease in the woods – a peaceful solace in walking beneath the sky, and a confident security within myself. That is one of the many benefits I think I’ll find; the ability to carry that security with me everywhere I go.
No longer will I be leaving work at midnight, realizing what a beautiful night it was, and accepting the fact that I was holed up in a kitchen, cooking for people that were out having a good time. I won’t be trapped in a classroom or cubicle on sunny spring afternoons, staring out the window and living slave to the clock on the wall.
I’ll be outdoors, all day, every day. You can’t beat that!
This adventure is going to be so pure. I’ll have the wind in my hair, breathing nothing but fresh mountain air, no longer living under artificial fluorescent light. I’ll be sleeping when I’m tired, eating when I’m hungry, drinking from fresh mountain springs, hearing nothing but the quiet sounds of nature in my ears, exercising all day… I could go on and on.
It’s the most healthy thing a person could do for himself. I’ll be discovering a new horizon each day, and sleeping in a different place every night. I’ll wander North with the blooming spring in the south, through the height of summer, and finally perhaps the glorious colors of autumn in Maine.
I’ll look down from high peaks at rolling hillsides, comely valleys, ribbons of highway, and the minuscule vehicles humming along on them, going about their business. I’ll be on top of the world, and I won’t have a care in it.
And I imagine that is only scratching the surface of the enormity of what I’m going to experience.
I suppose, in doing this, that I’ll be fulfilling a dream. Everybody tells you to go for your dreams. We’re saturated in that saying. But what exactly is that supposed to mean? Do people really mean it when they say it? What if you actually go off and try to accomplish them? Then what? Are you suddenly some impractical weirdo?
What are your dreams? Do you have them? Did you have them? Did you give up on them? Is your dream to go to a good college, get a degree from there, work forty hours a week for some empty heartless company – just to pay the bills until you retire – then marvel and wonder at where all the years went? Is that how we’re meant to live the fleeting moments of our lives? Is it realistic to dream for more? Is it foolish?
Do you ever get a feeling – it usually comes when you’re doing something particularly enjoyable, a feeling that what you’re doing at the moment is somehow exactly what you were meant to do? Sort of like you’re fulfilling a piece of fate or destiny or something, only briefly… like taking full advantage of the moment you’ve been blessed with?
It’s hard to explain. So many people are incapable of doing what they want. So many more are even, quite bluntly – dead, lying in the cold ground. So many times when I’m “living it up,” if you will, or especially when enjoying just a very simple thing to the fullest, it’s as if I feel somebody smiling and nodding, glad that I’m taking advantage of what I’ve been given.
I felt that way a lot during high school, when I was belting my lungs out for an athletic team, longing to get my hands on a symbolic football helmet, being mischievous, enjoying a cross-country practice, sitting in a study hall, harassing the faculty… everything.
A lot of people seemed to hate high school. It was as if most people didn’t care about anything, like whether the soccer team won or lost. It was “cool” not to care. It was a shame. It’s more fun if you care. It makes all the difference in the world.
I mean, you can simply drive your car from point A to point B, or you can drive your car from point A to point B… while rolling down the window, blasting a great song, breathing deeply, drumming your hands on the steering wheel, and singing along.
Speaking of driving and playing the radio, I’m going to miss music terribly this summer. I always have something playing. It’ll be a tough thing to give up, but I guess everything will sound that much better when I come home. And wouldn’t you know, Bruce Springsteen is releasing a live album on April 3rd, the very day I plan to summit Springer Mountain! How dare he! Such sacrifices.
There’s also going to be a concert special on HBO on April 7th, with footage from one of the shows I was at! I highly recommend watching it. Maybe you’ll see me in the audience. And perhaps a considerate soul out there will get the album on the 3rd, and play “Lost in the Flood” for me. One of the voices going crazy in the crowd is mine.
I’m going to miss too many things to mention, like the summertime at home, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, rock & roll concert tours, baseball season, the cookouts and fireworks, Alan Greenspan’s economy updates (Okay maybe not the last one), and all the local things involving a summer at home.
I had my last day at work a little while ago, and I miss all the people there already. Past hikers have said to enjoy your time at home before you embark on this, because things won’t be the same when you come back. I’ve been trying to savor this time, but it’s hard. I tend to be quiet and withdrawn as it is, and when I see my friends, my head is just off in the clouds and mountains on the AT.
I visited track and field practice at my old high school with my friend Dave on Tuesday, just to say hi to the coach and everything. It’s always weird going back. The baseball team was having its practice too. They were just doing their routine – you know, swinging at pitches, running the bases, playing catch, running drills, kicking up dirt, the usual.
As we were leaving and pulling away in my car, Dave, who played baseball in school, couldn’t take his eyes off of them. The scene was admittedly picturesque, the way they were milling about the field, tucked behind the high school with South Mountain as the backdrop in the early evening light. He said to me that he’d give anything, specifically, his left @#$%& (Part of the male anatomy) to be able to be down there and playing with the team again, even just for batting practice, to be wearing the blue and white again. He meant it too.
He was nearly drooling looking at them, and I could tell that it was almost painful for him to think about it. I guess he realized that he could never go back and play high school baseball again, except maybe only in heaven.
And it poignantly struck me that, as he salivated over the scene, that the kids down there probably had no idea that what they were doing was so special. They were clueless. They won’t know how special it was until it’s too late.
I’ll be doing my hike for all those that wish that they could be out there with me this year – the ones that still dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail someday, and those many that have gone before me with itchy feet to do it again.
I’ll soak in enough atmosphere for all of you. I know there are plenty of hikers thinking of everybody starting off this spring… I know that they’re getting that same longing feeling that my buddy had when he saw the baseball team practicing. I see how special this is, and realize how lucky I am to have the opportunity to even begin such a journey, wherever it may come to an end.
To take it a step further, this journal is for those of you that wish you could be doing something… anything – whether it’s the AT, retiring early from your career, or simply going to batting practice one more time.
I feel as though the Appalachian Trail is where I’m meant to be this summer. I hope you spend your summer where you’re meant to be as well, and enjoy every moment to its fullest. No more, no less.
Farewell – March 31, 2001
So it’s finally time for me to go.
I thought it would never come.
It’s odd not to have any planning to do anymore. My bag is packed. My maildrops are prepared and sent. My hair is buzzed down to almost nothing. I payed off my bills. I had my wisdom teeth removed. Hiking gear, Coke cans, and CD’s are no longer strewn everywhere around my room. I got the go-ahead from the doctor after only a tetanus shot. My taxes are filed. My car is at my dad’s. I got a calling card and medical insurance. My rain gear and boots have been tested.
Everything has come together so far.
Now all I have to do is hike.
A number of big thank-you’s are in order: to Mathew Olsen and Rick Ashley for all the work that goes into providing this site (trailjournals.com), my mom and family for tolerating my total absorption in this and my apparent disregard for my future; my hip, saxophone-wielding brother Steve for driving me all the way to Georgia; my sister for being goofy; her boyfriend for helping me with scanning my photos; my step dad Greg for transcribing my journal entries, handling my mail, and everything in between; my dad for taking care of my car; and surely to everybody in the hiking community I’ve been in touch with through the forums and e-mail for being essential to my planning; and those who have already sent me encouraging e-mails and signed the guestbook.
The wallpaper on my computer screen for the past months has been a photograph of Mount Katahdin. It was shot by a thru-hiker from Abol Bridge. He had walked over two thousand miles and experienced everything under the sun in order to see that mountain.
It’s now time for me to turn away from the image on my computer, unplug it, strap on my pack, and venture north to see Katahdin for myself.
I’ll leave you (or rather, welcome you!) with some verse from J.R.R. Tolkien’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS, called “The Old Walking Song”
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, If I can
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet
And whither then? I cannot say.