Springer Mountain – Southern Terminus of the AT – Mile 0.0
We just dropped off my younger daughter at Springer Mountain, Georgia for her Appalachian Trail thru hike. Well, to be completely factual, it was my wife who drove her up the mountain to the parking lot on a sketchy forest road and hiked in the 1 mile to the start of the trail. Meanwhile, I laid in bed with some sort of illness, praying that I wouldn’t pass it on to my daughter.
Back to the main point: My wife and I are proud but, truth be told, significantly apprehensive as well. This apprehension has multiple sources including the fact that, I, as a 2017 thru hiker, know all too well what she will face in the coming months.
Well, at least I think I know. Frankly, I’m a little surprised at how this all turned out. As I was planning my own thru hike well over a year ago, I approached my daughter and suggested that she join me, saying something like: “Hey, why don’t you quit your job and come hike with me for the next 6 months? It will be fun spending every waking (and sleeping) hour with me (your Dad).” Shockingly, she turned me down. Then, shortly after I got back from Maine, she announced that she was planning her own hike of the AT (and could she borrow my gear?) Really?
I’ve told this story to a fair number of people, pandering for sympathy. Almost without exception, when I get to the end and raise my eyebrows as if to say “boy, can you believe she turned down this golden opportunity to come with me?”, I get a certain look. I was puzzled initially but now realize that “the look” translates to something like this: “Well duh! What don’t you get about a young adult woman not wanting to spend 5 months under the (very) close scrutiny of her father?”
Anyway, she did come to me for hiking advice, which stroked my ego. But, I had to walk a line, balancing my desire to spout a litany of parental admonitions (don’t hitch hike alone, stay in designated shelter/camp areas, don’t get lost, etc) with actual reasonable advice (try not to go longer than 5 days between resupply, carry decent rain gear, get (and then actually use) the Guthook guide for your phone, etc).
The final agreed upon plan was that my wife and I would bring her down to Georgia, drop her off at the southern terminus and then hang out for a couple of days while we: a) did some trail magic for this year’s thru hikers; but most importantly b) “casually” checked in on her during her first few days on the trail. She seems fine with this. It is important for you to understand that this wasn’t the original plan. When I first told my wife that our daughter was planning to thru hike the AT, her response was “would you please do the AT again, this time with her?” This sent a shudder up my spine. Understand, this request from my wife was made only a few days after I had finished my own thru hike and I was convinced that backpacking was something that I’d never do again voluntarily since it involved the risk of hiking and/or camping in the rain, which my time on the AT taught me to loathe.
But, I couldn’t admit this to my wife. So, as in all successful marriages, I ginned up an alternative proposal which would make me look good while also helping me avoid revisiting various thru hiking traumas. My proposal was for us to rent an RV and then drive the AT, stopping daily at strategic road crossings, providing trail magic and, of course, watching over the safety of our daughter. When I broached this plan to my daughter, she politely demurred: “Gee, Dad, that sounds a lot like stalking to me”.
So, we are going with what can charitably be considered “Plan C”. But, she has invited me to join her later on the trail for a few days. I figured I could handle walking and camping in the rain for a couple of days so quickly agreed and suggested that she pick out where she’d like me to meet up with her. As I said this, my mind was screaming “please, please, please don’t say that you want me to hike with you in northern Pennsylvania.”
You see, when I reached Delaware Water Gap, I got down on my knees and swore that I would never, ever, set foot on that section of the Appalachian Trail again. It turns out that every evil thing that I had ever read about the condition of the AT in northern Pennsylvania was true. Unfortunately, it also turned out that the condition of the AT in New Jersey and most of New York was essentially the same. For the reader who wants further entertainment on this topic feel free to see my blog entry “What in Blazes is Horizontal Rock Climbing”. But, I have digressed. Anyway, she hasn’t yet told me where I can join her. I might be in the clear.
Other issues conspire to keep me up at night – for example the issue of “blazing”. On my own thru hike I did not take detours or trail short cuts (blue blazing). I did not jump in a car to cut out dozens or hundreds of trail miles (yellow blazing). I walked every mile of the actual AT (white blazing). Being happily married I had absolutely no desire to pink blaze either – the quaint thru hiker term for pursuit of the opposite sex. But, throw together a bunch of healthy, athletic and unattached 20 somethings and nature can and often does, take its course. Normal folk (i.e., non-thru hikers) don’t understand how this is actually possible since it involves people potentially having “relations” who are going 5 or 6 or more days between showers (not counting walking in the rain of course). Personal hygiene takes a back seat on a thru hike (folks, we’re talking “back” as in back of the bus here). I assure you however, that pink blazing is a real, and rather common, thing.
All levity aside, my wife and I will be hanging on each daily check-in from our daughter’s SPOT Gen3, on each phone call or email when she takes a zero in a trail town, just to know that she is alright. It’s going to be a long summer. Letting go – it’s what parents are supposed to do, right? Naively, I thought that part ended when we let go when she went off to college for the first time. Unfortunately, I’m learning that letting go as a parent is an iterative process. As the great American philosopher Yogi Berra said, this summer it will be “déjà vu all over again” as we follow our daughter’s journey.