3/4 Down 1/4 To Go

Every time I sit down to gather my thoughts and write, it feels like a day or two since I’ve last done so. Then, I go through my pictures and navigation book, and a flood of memories pour in.

I remember a lightning strike. Through the rain in my eyes, I saw a millisecond of bright light before the actually bolt took shape not a half mile in front of me. Adrenaline and fear masking the muscle burn in my legs as I haul ass for shelter, two metal poles in hand.

Images of a baby fox running across my path arise, it’s adorable, fluffy fur collecting dew drops like my not adorable, not fluffy beard.

Then, of course, there’s all the wood platforms over the swamps that look dry, but are really like fucking bowling alley lanes. There should be “Speed Limit: .1 MPH” signs next to them, and if you think I’m being dramatic, I have a 6 inch cut along my leg that I’ll happily present to the court as Exhibit A.

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Also, it could have been much worse, so maybe I am being dramatic.

At this point in the trek, it seems as if my brain goes on autopilot during the day. It takes an actual effort to remember the details, like they happened during a night of blackout drinking. Three days feel like one. It’s like when you edit a video on your iPhone. When you press your thumb down, the content expands, making every little frame visible.

Anyway. I left off in Unionville, NY.

Aesthetically, the Trail in New York is well maintained and beautiful. The tree canopy is much higher than any previous state. It’s hard to explain, but certain sections of the forest feel enclosed, like I’m in a room. The canopy raised, the “room” feels like its on a grander scale. The green’s are more intense, and an endless expanse of smooth dark grey rock follows around every corner.

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Tyler’s art. Each phone booth rings, then tells the story of how the speaker got to NYC and how it saved them. Really cool.

A couple long days of hiking brought me into Fort Montgomery, NY and Bear Mountain State Park, where I was to meet an NYC-dwelling, fellow Boca Ratonian, Tyler Giordano, for three days of hiking. Tyler is family. So much so, minutes after I saw my Dad pass, I drove to his house. I never went inside, I sat at my steering wheel and wept, but just being nearby provided comfort. He’s an artist, and a damn good one. He has some work currently displayed in Times Square. My friends are cooler than yours, I know.

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With a fully scheduled trip into NYC looming, we had to make it 45 miles in 3 days to stay on track.

Unfortunately, hiking doesn’t just divide into three even days. The Trail goes through private land and federally protected land frequently as you get north, and these rules forced us into twenty miles on the first day. Halfway (10 miles) through the second day, Tyler’s legs called it a day, and before I could blink, he had a slice of pizza and an Uber on the way. To his credit, the New York section of the AT is strenuous, full of consecutive up&down’s.

I spent six nights in NYC, and my theory is since I walked so much through The City during my stay, my legs did not require any reacclimation upon return. I saw as much as I possibly could. One of my closest friends from my childhood, Ian Markow (@IanMarkow IG) lives in Manhattan, so I crashed with him for a couple days. I also stayed a night with another friend, Mike Kaufman (@mikeykauf IG). I loved seeing both guys getting after the grind, and it left me wanting to join them. Perhaps I’ll end up in NYC, can’t be crazier than living in the woods right? It can? We’ll see.

The biggest treat of the trip was my man Joe Fuentes used some points and got me a room at a Marriott downtown. A full nights rest in a King size bed really reset my body. Thank you brotha!

NYC was my last extended stay off Trail, and the experiences off Trail gave me a good motivational kick in the ass. I didn’t have any societal hangover when I returned to the woods. In fact, I felt the opposite. I want to finish this hike, ASAFP, so I simply laced up, plugged my headphones in, and put my head down in the direction of Maine.

Of course, no motivational fire can be left to burn.

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Rain. Rain. Go the fuck away. Please. I’m begging you. Leave me and my friends alone. In fact, Mother Nature, I have a few compromises to propose.

First, you stop sending mice into my food bag and I’ll stop bird-bathing my sweaty ass cheeks in your creeks. Cool?

Next, send all this unpredictable rain to Florida, everyone is indoors avoiding heat stroke anyway.  In return, I’ll actually use the wood chips left in the privy to help with the smell and decomposition. Word?

I can’t mention the other rules I break, Smokey the Bear and his boys would snuff me and hide the evidence in the next forest fire they fail to prevent.

Just thinking out loud here, Smokey the Bear would have been a great Trail Name.

Moving on. Over the last fourteen days, I’ve taken two days off, and the other twelve I’ve hiked a minimum of twenty miles. As the terrain intensity increases, the days get longer.

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The general layout for a hiking day goes as follows. Five am wake up. Clean up/Bathroom/Breakfast/Bitch&Moan takes approximately ninety minutes. From there, I hike until I hit twenty miles, then choose a campsite when my legs give up. I take breaks based on meals, fatigue, heat, weather, and hydration. I consider a break anything over two minutes. When I get into camp, mosquitos or rain force me into my hammock where I piece together a pathetic, unrewarding dinner. I get Gandalfy, read for an hour, and pass out. Repeat.

So. When I mention “hiking”, that’s a basic template you can apply to whatever mental picture you build. Since we’re working on this mental picture together, can you please picture my old 9.9/10, lady loving, handsome self and not the current state of anorexic Zach Galifinakis.

Thanks.

IMG_1078The first two days out of NYC brought heavy, intermittent rain.

On the first day, I dodged one rain storm by seconds, reaching an empty shelter, where I decided to have lunch. One of my favorite hiker past times is to sit in a shelter dry as a bone and ask the wet hikers “How you doin?”  as they stroll in, knowing full well how they’re doing.

Stomach growling and surrounded by a waterfall, I dug through my pack for my food bag. Not two seconds later, I heard footsteps. I looked up, but before I could comfortably communicate just how damn dry and, well, comfortable, I was, the hiker opened his mouth. He spoke at an Israeli-pace, but with the type of voice you’d expect from the kid in class that reminded the teacher she didn’t collect yesterday’s homework yet.

Guy: “Wow what a rain flow! Huh? I mean, look at me! HA! I’m SOAKED. Well, I guess it could be worse right? Could be hailing too! Imagine that.”

Me: “………………….”

Guy: “Hey you know where the water source is? I’ve been out for an hour. I tried catching some rain in my mouth but then it got in my eyes!”

Me: “……………………………”

Guy: “Oh nevermind! There’s the sign for water. Hey, what’s your name? You headed North? What time is it by the way?”

Me: “……………………………………….”

Guy: “You won’t believe what happened to me yesterday. I’ll tell you about it when I get back from getting water!”

Listen, I love talking as much as the next guy. My brother says I carry a “microphone” everywhere I go. My parents used to sit me away from them on airplanes so I would talk somebody else’s head off. BUT! Sometimes, within five seconds of a conversation, I want to melt into the ground and never reappear.

The second this man spoke to me, I knew that if I did not somehow escape, I’d be forced to murder him.

I packed up my food and hunger, slung my bag on quickly, and happily stepped into the downpour and hiked on.

After a couple long wet days, I woke up in Kent, CT, behind the Toymaker’s Cafe. The Toymaker herself is wonderful. She’s in her last third of life, and apparently, as she made sure everyone noticed, her breast’s are in the first third. The food’s great too, so good, I stayed around for a second full breakfast/glance. Benjamin Button Boobs, unreal, I’ve seen it all.

After breakfast, I walked back to my hammock disgusted in my own thoughts, a much too frequent occurrence, and found it had been turned into an F-Shack for Dirty Mike and the Slugs. For those who haven’t seen The Other Guys with Will Ferrell and Marky Mark Wahlberg, there’s a scene where Will Ferrell’s stolen Prius is found, loaded with bodily fluids and hair from a group of homeless men having an orgy, which the police officer eloquently calls a “Soup Kitchen”. Also, a momma raccoon crawled in and gives birth to a full litter. Finally, a man took a shit on the driver seat. The homeless men left a note, it said, “Thanks for the F-Shack. Love, Dirty Mike and the Boys.”

Instead of homeless men, homeless slugs approximately 1-2 inches in length infiltrated my setup and managed to drag their slime ALL OVER EVERYTHING. My sleeping bag, hammock, rain tarp, bug net, all of it. I guess due to all the rain, they were extra slimey. In certain places, their slime dripped down, leaving side trails, or Snail Blazing.

Now, I didn’t even know this could happen. It didn’t exist in realm of potential misfortunes. I refused to sleep in there until the problem was resolved, no matter what. With no laundry in my immediate vicinity, a friendly Hiker named Jellybean got her sister to drive out and help me out. She got me situated and we spent the night blissfully snuggling in my dry hammock.

Wait, no, she left immediately, sans snuggle. Poor girl drove 90 minutes to pick us up, which was more than enough to earn her Trail Angel wings. Thank you for the ride!

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The next day’s hike brought with it some cloud coverage, so miles were easy to come by.

I hiked a few days with a girl named Silver Toes. She lives in Fort Lauderdale, and needed to crush some serious miles to be able to meet up with her boyfriend and his family in Bennington, VT.

 

We hiked into Upper Goose Pond Cabin and set up camp. In the morning, the volunteers on site made blueberry pancakes and coffee for hikers in the morning. I also ran into Sherpa, Kanga, and Roo! They’re the family hiking the AT this year. Ellie, who I believe is fifteen months, will be the youngest person to ever get through the entire AT.
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The main volunteer, Caretaker, had one of those demeanors where every single second is the worst one she’s yet lived. She walked around with a rubber piggy bank, shaped like a pig, and would randomly slam it down in front of you, say “Don’t forget to feed the pig”, and smile a smile that felt like it took every scrape of soul remaining inside to conjure.
Caretaker left after breakfast, and once she cleared the room, everyone took their hands off their wallets and began to breath. Silver Toes and I agreed a “zero” was in order. She meant hiking, I meant donation, I compromised, and did neither.

So I’m fed, dry, not hiking, and I have a cup of coffee in hand. Life is good, right?

Naaaah.

Remember that shithead who brought diced red onions back to our non-air conditioned room and ate them like skittles while the scent infiltrated every thread of everything I owned?

He showed up.

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Silver Toes is friends with him, so I tried to be nice. He’s a smart guy though, and I could tell he knew he annoyed me. Also, I could tell he knew I knew he knew, and he enjoyed it, which oddly enough, I respect.

In fact, I love to annoy people I know I annoy.

So, like a true masochist (what other type of person would hike the AT?) I spent the remainder of the day around him, and my eye has now been twitching for a week straight.

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I’m kidding, kinda, my eye has indeed been twitching for a week straight, but not from him. He’s a good dude, I just like to complain.

The next few days went by without a hitch. There has been great food in towns, and a ton of Trail Magic. So much so, I haven’t been able to eat the food I’m carrying, which sucks, but eating three separate full free meals in one day resulting in carrying some extra weight is a problem I’ll welcome any day of the week.

I had the impression that the last third of the Trail would be undeveloped and extremely rural, as most hikers have quit by now. Wrong. All the southbound thru-hikers come through these areas as well, so hiker traffic is heavy. The last few places I’ve stayed have been full of hikers that just started going South. When I started, I met a group of SOBO’s in Georgia that were finishing up. Full circle.

Anyway, I’ve never been to this area of the country and I’m glad for that. Every day brings new, sights, smells, and experiences.

Just the other morning, I left Dalton, MA around six am. The Trail went through town for about 2 miles. It took me downtown, then through the residential area, and finally, the asphalt turned into a dirt road and neared the woods. Once I actually stepped into the trees and was fully enveloped in forest, an overwhelming scent of girls shampoo filled my nose. I turned around, thinking a female hiker had run up behind me, but saw nothing. It took me a minute to register that the situation was in reverse. I was amidst the scent they base sprays, lotions, shampoos, and a million other products on. I sat to read, never really getting over how naturally intoxicating it smelled. One of those things I could only experience on this trip. Hashtag Blessed.

So now I’m in Manchester Center, VT. A friend of mine from high school, Kristen Benson, sent me a message saying her family lives here now. I didn’t think anything of it, but after a motel held me by my pant legs and shook out all my lunch money, I needed a favor, which I hate asking for. After a deep breath like I was breaking up with a girl over a text, I messaged Kristen and asked if she had any friends willing to let me crash on a couch for a night.

Within five minutes, Mrs. Benson, her mother, stood in front of me. She took me back to their house, on Benson Road (Benson Street? I forgot, sorry.). The Benson’s live next door to Mr. Benson’s brother, who lives near his sister, who lives in the house their Dad lived in. I hope I’m getting this right.

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Anyway, Mr. Benson drove me through town in his 1942 Army Jeep brought back from Europe. He showed me the old money section, where the houses double and sometimes triple in size, all built in the same traditional style.

They fed me dinner and let me sleep above their garage in my own little attic suite, in a bed no less. I woke up to coffee and a pancake with authentic Vermont Maple Syrup.

They did have a little dog that simply refused to exist in a world that I lived in. Every time I walked away from him, the little shit would nip my ankle.

Thank you to the Benson’s for dinner, the conversation, and the bed to sleep in. Mrs. Benson said she hoped if her daughter were ever in the same position, that somebody would help her out too. So, if Karma is a real thing, it’s definitely in your favor.

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I hike out of Manchester today, with the hope of getting to Hanover, NH, home of Dartmouth College, by Friday. I plan to stay the weekend with a friend, David Sullivan, and his fiancé, Emily.

I intend to finish the Trail on September 27th, when my Mom and Aunt fly up. They made plans to enjoy a couple days of sight seeing in Maine, before flying back to Boca Raton on October 1st.

That means I need to hike 12 miles/day to finish, and although the hardest terrain of the trail is ahead, I feel confident.

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions or want to just reach out, my email is:

Colby.Wohlleb@gmail.com

Talk soon y’all.

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