Guest post by Mike Fuller; author
“I’ll give you a pack of stuff that will keep you alive until the chopper can get you out.”
I started to say, “Thank you.” But the words got stuck on the way up. My cardiologist is such a sweetheart. He wished me luck and set a follow up appointment for six months.
“You should be OK, I mean, if you keep hydrated and don’t push it too hard.”
He smiled. Nice guy but does he understand that humping forty pounds of pack, tent, sleeping bag, pad, clothes, food, water and all the sweat your shirt can absorb up a rocky hillside might just qualify as “pushing”? Maybe not.
At least he wasn’t as direct as my brother-in-law. “Are you crazy? You’re going to walk from Georgia to Maine. On foot?”
I’m sure he wasn’t just concerned for my health. Likely the prospect of my Child Bride, soon to be a tearful widow, moving in with her sister crossed his mind. She’s a peach but I’m used to her.
Every so often the reassuring white blaze will appear on a trailside tree up ahead indicating you have not strayed from the Appalachian (pronounced App-a-lat-chin’ for those of you from anywhere else) Trail and wandered into the moonshine camp of the mountain folk who call this wilderness home. If you don’t end up prone in the Med-i-Flight chopper, it will take up to six months of cold, heat, wet and wild to march the 2200 miles (actually 2189 but there are side trips and mistakes to deal with) from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin (don’t ask me how to pronounce it, it varies), Maine. Or vice versa if you wish to tackle the biggest, baddest mountains first.
So, why would a retired cop in his sixties with heart and blood sugar issues want to live out of a backpack, a too heavy backpack, for half a year? Joy, he said. That’s right, joy. It’s the only word I need to explain it. I’ve been an outdoorsman all my life. At times work consumed, no gobbled, my time. Marriage, mortgage, kids, dogs, the lawnmower, you know, life. But there was still space for camping, hunting, hiking, sailing even a bit of flying in my younger, better eyesight years. Each had just a bit of that joy soak through. When there is nothing between you and Him, just sky, it’s as real as it gets.
Walking the Appalachian (say it, App-a-lat-chin) Trail or any other wilderness trail removes the barriers, the distractions, the business of the modern world and pulls us back to somewhere in our primitive past. I’m not sure the younger hikers that make up the bulk of the almost three thousand thru hikers that each year start the walk, get the same message but they have their own reasons. Plus, they have time to figure it out.
When I first knew that I had to hike the AT, I was one of them. Twenty-two and finishing college. The urge to explore and do ANYTHING but sit in a classroom most of the day then pour over books and term papers in the library (yes, there used to be libraries and books before the whole world existed in your iphone) into the night was just so appealing. It didn’t happen.
Now it will, maybe. April, 2017. It’s a mark to go for. Here’s how:
Walk. Walk some more. Load up a daypack with water and PB&J and walk. Load up the real backpack and walk up and down hills until your knees scream. Then get up the next day and do it again. Throw in some stretching, humping firewood and a little swimming at the southern writing retreat and cardiac arrest just may be put off for a while. I read somewhere that if you can walk a mile and climb two flights of stairs you can hike the AT. Well, if you’re twenty-two and your BMI is in single digits, sure. But how about the other group of hikers that start out each year? The red in the face-gasping for breath-stumbling-over-the-hill gang. Those of us that had a career or raised our kids and now have the time and the money to re-kindle that exploration fire snuffed out all those years ago.
Of those that start out each year to thru hike the Appalachian Trail (I hear you struggling with it, it’s latch like door latch and chin, like the thing below your lower lip), less than a quarter finish. Not very good odds. Throw in the age and infirmity issues and yikes!
How much farther to the trailhead? Give me a minute.
Let’s say a little prayer here: “Please God, don’t let me quit.” I am, after all, out there soaking up all that He has made. I promise I’ll appreciate it, leave no trace on the trail, glob sanitizer on my hands after I trot off trail into the woods and not cuss at the kid blasting death metal in the trail shelter on his portable speaker. And rain is heaven’s way of making flowers and acorns for squirrels.
Much of what I have read and even experienced in my training hikes is about the many rewards we receive from the people we meet on the trail. So many different folks in all sorts of situations. Friends found and made for a lifetime. Fleeting moments where only an impression and maybe a trail name is all that passes between. Trail angels lending a helping hand and hosts that take you in and care for your body and soul. As a writer, this is like an all you can eat spread for the mind. I only hope some of it sticks and follows along after the Trail.
It’s a year off now. I’ve section hiked pieces of the trail near our Pennsylvania home, even had my son’s bachelor party up there beside a roaring campfire on a cool October night. The rocks and hills are tough but a good work out. Much more will be coming this year in preparation. Not all of it physical. Knees and ankles, backs and shoulders wear out with age and the trail will test it all. It’s the between the ears obstacles that are waiting there even if the body endures. Lurking, ready to crush the dream and send me home early.
The mental prep is the hardest but even more critical. Trail journals, blogs, books and even facebook have lots to read about the AT and other hiking trails. Equipment, shoes, even umbrellas are touted as what is needed to make the hike a success. But the writings I pay most attention to are the open wound stories of despair and defeat and especially those that tell of overcoming the darkest of days. Honest, aching and heartwarming admissions of the powerful forces working to pull the hikers from their mission. Some get past it, most don’t.
But I have the advantage there. I picked a career that didn’t like quitters. And some of the grit I’ve had to summon up to face challenges is tucked away in a waterproof bear bag and stuffed into my pack. Faith in Him has always been the rock on which we’ve built our house and it has carried us on in good and bad times. The son of a preacher’s son and the farmer’s daughter, I had plenty of life’s lessons revealed to me and I think I’ve paid attention to a good bit of it. But if I feel even a little glum out there in the rain and cold, I’ll know He is only testing my faith and reminding me to find the joy and march on.
After writing professional documents for many years, Mike has finally devoted time to his true passion, writing fiction where the story and characters come alive in the reader’s mind. While his days were filled with authoring hundreds of detailed crime reports, arrest affidavits, search warrants and grand jury presentments, he took some of his own time and devoured books by the dozens. Reading not only was a rewarding diversion, it provided him with the added education he needed to function at a high level in his profession.
This has led to the creation of Mike’s crime/suspense/detective novels SINK RATE, ROPE BREAK and SIDE SLIP, the first three in the Sam Deland Crime Novel series. All are expected to be published in 2015 and 2016 by: http://www.roguephoenixpress.com/ More recently, CAPTAIN’S CROSS, a historical land and sea adventure novel set in colonial America has also been accepted for publication.
Mike writes with the real life experience that many years of law enforcement shaped and influenced. The stories may be fiction but are based on how things happen in the real world. His books are honest and captivating novels written with a unique voice that will both chill and charm.
Mike is a veteran police detective. He did it all from rookie patrolman to Senior Special Agent. His life has been enriched by a wonderful marriage, parenting, work, flying, sailing and good books. Mike is a lifelong outdoorsman, an experienced tactical firearms instructor, champion sailplane pilot and the captain of his own sailboat. All of these skills have made his novels vivid, exciting and real. Now retired after a career with three law enforcement agencies, Mike enjoys winters writing in Naples, Florida and summers sailing, writing and researching the next novel at his rural Pennsylvania home.
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