The epic journey of a sibling pair as they trek 2,181 miles from Georgia to Maine on the Appalachia Trail.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Reflections from Two Bad

We are in for a treat today!!  Two Bad has completed his memoires from his two trips with Hansel and Gretel!  The post that follows is from his first 10 days with Hansel and Gretel when they were hiking through Virginia.  It is quite special to have a first hand account of life on the Appalachian Trail!  Thanks Two Bad!

Reflections from Two Bad

So what’s in a name? In May as I began a hiking journey with my two youngest children, joining them as they hiked the roughly 2200 miles of the Appalachian Trial, I was well aware of the trail names given to section and thru hikers. My children had received theirs in Georgia when they began the trail, what else but “Hansel and Gretel” for a brother and sister heading off into the forest together. Along the way, they haven’t been dropping bread but rather gloves and shirts (see other blog postings) as they maintain a punishing pace to reach Mt. Katahdin by mid-July. My first day on the trail with them was filled with doubt. That first day’s distance was longer than expected and ends in a rain storm. At the shelter, the first of many thru hikers I would meet, “Grad School”, and the kids gave me my name. Two bad hips, knees and feet - what else, I will forever be “Two Bad”.
Dinner on my first night was pasta and a real trail treat, a “Little Debbie’s” Star Crunch for dessert. That night, as I crawled into my sleeping bag I was damp and tired. My legs cramped midway through the night and as I lay awake, I realized I was freezing. The temperature had dropped to the mid 30’s and my 3 season bag just wasn’t making it. Thoughts of death by hypothermia ran through my head as the kids peacefully slept. But as day dawned, I was still in the world of the living and looking forward to the adventures to come with Hansel and Gretel!
As we hiked, I knew that my two children had slowed to allow me to keep up with them. Hiking through the Virginia country side we cross many open fields and cow pastures, makes for some fun as the cows stare us down and I wonder what, if anything,  is going through their heads! That first full day we hike 14 miles and at the shelter I have the pleasure of meeting “Calculator” when asked about his name, he very matter of factly says to me, “well I have a PHD in Math.” “Really” I quip, “No”, he corrects, “just good at math and figuring the miles between shelters.” When we meet he has the classic bandana on his head, later when he removes it I discover he has a huge Mohawk! Calculator is a great young guy and keeps a blazing fire going for us. The shelter is not too crowded and the highlight for us all is an impromptu concert by “Six String”, “Disco” and “Blue Sky” who are all carrying stringed instruments on the trail.
The number of thru hikers I will meet in my two trips is quite large. Jarrod at one point says to me that I am an inspiration being out there on the trail with them. I tell you that the inspirations are people like “Ike”, “Silver Fox”, “One Grey Wolf” and of course “Grandpa”. These are thru hikers my age or older. They get up every morning and set out to hike 10, 14, often 20 miles. They are retired business men, mechanics, and other professionals who are taking on another of life’s challenges and doing it with a grace and style all uniquely their own. Each has his own story, like “Dead Man” who happened to be from New Jersey, in fact graduated 45 years before Jarrod from Seton Hall Prep, what are the odds of that happening?
I learn a lot while on the trail with Hansel and Gretel, I see first-hand the strength of my children. They hoist their packs on each morning and often never take them off all day, lunch as they move. I see the organization they have built into their daily schedule. Rising at 6 am and out by 7, not a simple task when you have to break down your tent and pack all your gear.  Becca turns pasta or rice with the occasional mashed potatoes thrown in, into delicious dinners every night with a culinary flair that is all her own while working with the most basic of ingredients. A dash of sun dried tomato in that herb pasta adds a new flavor and turns it into a 5 star meal. Jarrod maintains a constant banter as we hike which lifts everyone’s spirits, no matter the circumstances. Not jokes, just interesting quips and thoughts that range from movies to books to music to comedians to life itself. He draws us into his dialogue and this makes the miles drift by.  I also realize that these kids are really smart; often I find I do not have any idea what they are talking about as they review British Literature or Eastern Religions. But it is another chance for me to learn something new every day!
I also learn to really enjoy “Trail Magic”, the treats left at trail crossings by thoughtful people. These include oranges (my personal favorite) or bananas, soda or beer, chips and other munchy treats. The folks who take the time to leave these magical treats may have hiked the trail themselves, know someone who has or are just wonderful individuals who appreciate what this trip is all about! Whatever their motivation, everyone on the trail appreciates their kind gestures and relishes the next treat discovered further down the trail!
My travels allow me the pleasure of sharing camps with “Bum Knee”, “Schmuck” and “Evergreen”.  All are interesting characters from various walks of life. These three are traveling together and clearly enjoy each other’s company.  “Evergreen”, six plus feet with a huge “Viking” looking beard has plans to return to Louisiana and open a “U-pick it” farm. He is a kind hearted mountain of a man and keeps us all laughing. “Schmuck” is a light hearted young guy from the Boston area. He had worked in an auto body shop doing high end antique car restorations, an interesting change!
The hiking is tough on my knees, particularly the down hills. I also am cultivating some interesting blisters! Becca and Jarrod take turns being my nurse and draining and then duct taping them. It’s amazing how they are forgotten through the day but when my boots come off, they jump right out at me.  At least the days are all relatively sunny and clear and we see some nice vistas and enjoy pleasant campfires at our camps. The shelters are all clean and fairly comfortable but one in particular is a favorite. It is a three tiered, post and beam constructed unit and we share it with three generations of a family that hiked in about 3 miles from a trail crossing. We also have “Mean Gene”, “Bean Pole” and “Ike” in the shelter when we call it a day. Just as we are dozing off to sleep, “Grandpa” rolls in. He often hikes into the night to keep up with the younger hikers, “Mean Gene” and “Bean Pole”.  The addition of “Grandpa” adds a new dimension to the shelter, incredibly loud snoring!
On Mother’s Day we tent camp. Enjoying a really great campfire and we have cell service so we all wish Donna a happy Mother’s Day from the mountains of Virginia! I have had many chances to reflect and appreciate what a wonderful experience this time has been. While we are not with Donna on Mother’s Day, I think we all feel the specialness of a great mother and an incredible wife! Though apart, in many ways we all clearly feel the closeness of our family on this day!
 We have been doing 14-15+ mile days and my legs have held up well enough. Still, I realize that these two could have been burning along at a much greater pace. They also would be out of camp much quicker each morning since I am the one who sits around enjoying a cup of coffee to start my day. But a large part of this experience is enjoying the environment we are in. The simple things, all the trappings stripped away and a cup of coffee is a treasure! I also reflect often on just how lucky I am to be here with two of my children and feeling very much alive as I am able to push myself physically each day (thanks Vincent). I’ll return home, tired and blistered but clearly a bit thinner, more fit and feeling a sense of accomplishment.  I do regret that Amanda has a broken ankle. She had been thinking that she could have been a part of the Virginia trek with us but that plan will not be happening so she will continue to be the chronicler of the adventures of “Hansel and Gretel” on their epic march north!    

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