It is now the (early) spring of 2019. I’ve passed my 47th birthday and statistically, at least, I’m on the second half of my life. I’ve been hiking the White Mountains of New Hampshire regularly since 2011 and I finally finished my New Hampshire 4000 footer list last fall.
I’ve been toying with the idea of thru-hiking the AT for a few years now. It’s a challenge I would love to undertake, but I also am a realist. My career and household finances won’t allow that kind of a commitment. Even a record setting 40 day thru-hike would not be feasible for work. With those barriers to a thru-hike, I’ve come to the decision to section hike the trail, but with some self-imposed criteria.
My plan is to hike the trail from South to North, by sections, but in order, as if I thru-hiked. This would give me the sequence of a thru-hiker on the trail, but allow for my “real life” commitments to be maintained. Vacation time isn’t generally a problem for me. I usually have a hard time taking it all each year and lose some. The problem is the schedule and deadline responsibilities I have to maintain throughout the year. As a section hiker, I can take a week or two to hike as my work schedule allows and then return a few weeks later where I left off.
I’m normally a pretty introverted and private person. I often hike alone, after my wife’s knees progressed to the point of being unable to hike and requiring surgery. One has been done and she’s at the point where she could return to easy/moderate hiking with that knee, if it weren’t for the other one causing pain and problems. I’m happy hiking alone and many times I try to select trails which are less popular and are likely to have less traffic on them to enjoy nature and the sights and sounds that accompany the wilderness. There are definitely benefits to hiking this way.
On a hike early last December, I was doing a snowshoe warmup to try to get into some semblance of shape before the real winter hiking season started. I always have the best intentions of doing a lot of winter hiking, but inevitably I fail, whether it is from a heavy work schedule, family commitments, or weather conditions. However, on this hike I started out shortly after a group of almost a dozen hikers.
The trail was fairly solid and pretty well packed after some early season snowfalls, but it still hadn’t consolidated much and bare booting or microspikes seemed to churn up the trail quite a bit, even if I didn’t punch through the surface. With this in mind, I opted for snowshoes. The group ahead of me had also chosen snowshoes and they were taking a while to find the proper pace for the group as well as selecting the right layer combinations for the temperature and the activity level.
We leapfrogged each other for a little while, but eventually I found a spot where the trail neared the brook which it ran parallel to for most of its length. The brook had only partially frozen, primarily along the sides and around rocks in the occasional calm pool. I just stopped and listened to the gurgling of the water over the rocks. It was peaceful and quiet and it also allowed that group to gain some distance ahead of me so we weren’t constantly trying to pass each other in the soft snow to the side of the packed trail.
After a period of time listening and relaxing, but not so long that my body started to cool down too much, I began to move forward again. A few minutes after continuing my hike, I caught a quick glimpse of movement out of the corner of my eye. Not ten feet from me, ghosting over the top of the snow, was a pine marten. The only reason I managed to catch his movement is that he was only about 75% covered in his white winter coat. The tip of his tail was still very dark, and his back was a very light gray, but well on its way to being fully white. He definitely seemed curious about me and my presence. He was also brave enough for me to slowly pull my cell phone from my pocket and take his picture after he caught himself a nice mouse for breakfast.
This is a prime example of why hiking alone provides some excellent experiences. He never would have shown himself this close to the trail while the large group was going by and even the noise of a two or three person group is typically more than most wildlife wants to be around. I was fortunate to see such an uncommon critter along the trail and really enjoyed my time watching him.
However, despite being introverted and a private person, I often find myself very chatty on the trail. I seem to talk with other hikers more extensively and more often than I do with strangers in other areas of my life. Maybe this is a sign that I should be more involved with hiking groups and hike with others more often, even if they aren’t close acquaintances. The fact that I’m writing a blog about myself and my plans and experiences may be an indication that I’m not as introverted as I accuse myself of being, but instead just don’t find a connection with most people that makes me want to converse with them.
I also tend to be a very self-sacrificing person. My wife will back me up on this, since she accuses me of sacrificing my own needs and wants far too often for the benefit of her and our daughter. This includes both time and money. However, I will freely admit that hiking the AT is entirely about me. It’s something I want to do and I know that my wife, considering her knees, will be incapable of enduring that kind of activity for a week, let alone nearly 2,200 miles. She has offered up ways that she can help support my efforts, such as driving me to a starting point and meeting me at various road crossings along the section and restocking food in this manner.
Since I hike in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, it’s obvious I at least live in the northeast. Specifically, I live in southern Maine and have easy access to most of New Hampshire with a reasonable drive. Hiking throughout the White Mountains, I believe I’ve hiked more than half of the New Hampshire portion of the AT already, but it doesn’t seem as if it’s been part of that ultimate goal. The hikes are disjointed and, without that continuity, those sections of the AT have been just portions of those other various hikes utilizing a trail blazed in white instead of the usual blue or yellow blazes used in the White Mountains.
This is the crux of the goal and the methodology I plan to use to achieve it. I want the continuity of the trail through this adventure, even if life won’t permit the continuity of time.
Now, this being my first post, it’s pretty clear where the “Hiking” part of the title comes from. As for the “Center” part of the title, I could just stop and leave it to you, the reader, for interpretation. There are hints above, but since this is an introduction of myself and the blog itself, and not some great literary novel where the author leaves lots of areas for interpretation and reflection about what he/she really meant when they wrote that memorable story, I’ll actually explain my choice of title. There won’t be Cliff Notes for this, so I won’t make you think and ponder the meaning of life.
I’ve never been a yoga person, done meditation, or anything like that. My stress relief has always been good, solid, physical activity. I played two sports in high school (baseball and soccer) and continued baseball into college and beyond. At least through my college years, no matter how stressful my days may have been, it never seemed to bother me, whether that was because of age or the endorphin generating exercise, I don’t really know for sure. Even for the many years after graduation from college, whether it was continued baseball leagues, golf, or some other routine sporting activity, life seemed fine for me. I was slow to anger, rarely did stress affect me, and I could handle the twists and turns of life without problem.
Now, I’m approaching my 14th anniversary at my current employer; I’ve been married to the same wonderful woman for almost 23 years, and we share the wonderful experience of raising our daughter who is almost 5. However, for whatever reason, I find myself easily angered at things which never used to provoke me. I sometimes dread going to work, even when there is nothing on my calendar to worry about and deadlines are suitably far in the future to allow the work needed to easily be completed. I find myself much more frustrated with unplanned changes in schedules and problems disrupting my plans. I feel it is time to shake things up in my life.
In the context of this blog, “Center” refers to a few things for me at this point: (i) the center of my statistical lifespan (i.e. midlife); (ii) centering my spirit in the yoga, meditative, or religious sense; and (iii) placing hiking, and specifically this goal, near the center of my daily priorities. I’ll clarify a bit about (iii) to say that my daily priorities will not ever exclude my family, which means I will continue to make a living and support them and continue to spend time and resources to make them happy and nurture them. Hiking won’t ever take priority over that, as it just isn’t in my nature to abandon them, but I will be making the effort to put more “me” in my life and make it a priority. Now, as I look back, this turned into quite an introduction post and in my next (probably shorter) post I’ll explain my plans for this blog, at least to start with.