Why Did You Hike:
Some things are so small that we miss them. Yet others we miss because they are so big. The hike precipitated and completed such a major event in my life.
I had no idea why I was undertaking such an enormous, even lunatic (by everyday standards) endeavor. All I knew was that I absolutely had to do it. But looking back, it follows and falls into a distinct pattern - a major turning point in my life.
It was the culmination of a slow process that had begun a few years earlier and had now come to a head and had accelerated to this outburst.
It was a rejection of society\'s superficial values and modes and relying more on an inner, deeper spiritual self. A turning away from the materialism, shallowness and emptiness of modern life towards a more simple, fulfilling, wholesome and balanced life.
Every aspect of life changed as a consequence - I moved from a financially excessive but hollow life to a financially moderate but full life. My taste in music and art changed from a nihilistic to an optimistic stance - Pink Floyd lost its place in my heart. Most of my furniture and other "stuff" went to Goodwill.
I started working part time instead of full time. Cut out meat and junk food from my diet. Started riding my bike to work. Started meditating. Painted a lot more. Turned off the water heater in my house. Even the way I relate to people has changed. Now, I naturally move towards optimistic, down to earth types and away from the materialistic, shallow types. Developed more faith in myself, the world, nature and God. Turned more spiritual.
The hike started off as an adventure but the main journey was the one that occured inside. I realized this about 8 months into the hike.
The planning stages were fraught with anxiety and nervousness - fear of the unknown and shame of failure. But as the start drew nearer I regained my confidence and was too overwhelmed by the logisitics to worry about it any more.
The first 30 days or so on the trail saw the physical adjustment phase - rapid weight loss, increase in stamina and muscle mass, development of endurance in the face of cold, snow and rain, pangs of hunger and thirst.
This gave way to the mental phase, where I came to grips with the magnitude of the task at hand. Doubts about success or failure, logistics, how to relate a days hike to the full hike, how to deal with poor morale were dealt with in this stage. This lead to a sharper mental focus where all doubts were slowly washed away and I had absolutely no doubt that I would complete the hike.
Then came the spiritual part accompanied by an increased sensitivity, openness, creativity and soul searching. I examined society's explicit and implicit values, the role of an individual in a group, evolution, survival, ethics and religion. My inner philosophy and approach to life was cleaned out and strengthened.
Next came a significant shift from a helpless, victim state to one of hope and action. Yes, one cannot change the world alone. But that should never stop me from changing my own actions and choices so that they are fully aligned with my values. I started making a list of such values, and concrete day to day action and life style choices that would be consistent with them to use back in society. By this time I was in my 9th month in the wilderness. I had realized what the hike was actually about and that the inner journey was now complete.
Another month and I completed the physical hike in Key West and plunged back into society. The adjustment back in society was much easier than I had anticipated. I found a lot of people were feeling and suffering the way I had. So in a deeper sense I connected much better with people although superficially and materialistically I shared almost nothing in common with them.
The support for my hike consisted of sending and recieving stuff to / from me on the trail. It consisted of clothes, sleeping bag and other gear - no food. My friend Vivek handled all of it.
Weapons and Cell Phone:
We live in more fear than is warranted. So I had been asked the weapons and cell phone question several times. I did not carry a gun or cell phone.
While being in a forest certainly carries more risk than watching TV, I think the dangers are way over rated. To put things in perspective, bears run away from people because they are hunted. They become a problem only in high picnic / camping areas where they have developed an association of human beings with food. In this case, they are after the food.
The being cut-off from civilization is also a myth. The original old growth forests have been destroyed a long time ago. A look at a US map will show that on the East Coast it is almost impossible to be more than 2 days hike from a major road - and this does not include the numerous dirt roads that riddle all forests. In reality, it is getting away from civilization that is more difficult.
This is a very contentious issue with AT hikers. It has all the emotion and insolubility of religious discussions. For non-hikers - this involves essentially the acceptance of short-cuts or easier conditions along the trail. Example - the official trail may do a 10 mile meander from A to B, but there could be a side trail from A to a shelter C and another trail from C to B for a total distance of 7 miles. Is it OK to do the shorter section (This would be called blue blazing as side trails are marked with blue blazes)? Is it OK to ask someone else to drive your pack from A to B while you hike packless (it would be called slack-packing)? Is it OK to skip entire sections? After all not all sections are pretty (This would be called yellow blazing because the dividers on a road are yellow). Is it OK to take a long break from your hike and then come back and if so how long ?
It is however recommended that prospective thru hikers write a contract with themselves before the hike, to avoid the slippery slope of liberty taking. My contract was:
Towards the end of the hike I had realized
that the rules are meaningless if one knows
what the journey is really about. But if
not followed the journey is lost. Sort of a