Yesterday I reached Hot Springs, NC. It is at mile post 273 on the Appalachian Trail. It marked the 19th consecutive day that I’ve been walking. This in itself is odd, even by the standards set by AT hikers – a decidedly different lot of folks. Most hikers will get off the trail every 3 to 5 days to resupply, etc. Today is my first rest day – called a “zero” in AT parlance.
More to the point, I am exactly on schedule with an itinerary I made up, mostly out of thin air, about a year ago. This kind of compulsive behavior (both making a rigid schedule and then sticking to it) runs against the grain of a core AT mantra – learning adaptability. As you might surmise, the AT has apparently met a formidable foe – my particular brand of psychopathology. Whether I will eventually get beaten into an adaptable state of mind remains to be seen.
This brings to mind one of those idiotic internet surveys that popped up a while ago on my Facebook feed: “Which Big Bang Theory TV show character are you”? I already knew that I had a lot of Sheldon’s characteristics (the problematic ones) so I was confident of the result. Imagine my surprise when the survey spit out its conclusion – I was actually Bernadette. I choose to ignore this obviously invalid output.
I can easily document that I have many of Sheldon’s “issues”, hopefully in a milder form, although you’d have to ask my wife to confirm that my condition is milder than his. Sheldon has to have everything in exactly the right (same) place, all the time. He has a schedule and a system and woe to you if you attempt to alter it. Anyway, what does this have to do with hiking the Appalachian Trail? A lot I tell you.
I’ll be honest with you. In the normal, non-AT thru hiking world some of my/Sheldon’s psychopathology leaks out at inappropriate times. And, let’s face it, it is not adaptive. We’ll be driving down the road and suddenly I’ll start rooting around in my pockets (by the way, my wife really dislikes the phrase “rooting round”). I’ll check to see if I still have my wallet, or perhaps did I lose my phone, where did I put the house keys? You get the idea.
The point is you can’t do this on the AT without going completely mad – you have too many things to check (in a real sense you are carrying your entire world on your back) and you can’t set your pack down every 100 yards to see if you still have your water filter, gloves, insect repellent, etc.
So, what happened when my compulsiveness met the AT? Well, I sort of beat my sword into a plowshare, metaphorically speaking. Meaning, I developed a bag system – 5 of them. All labelled on the outside. Each bag also lists the specific items in that bag. If you take something out of one of the bags you’d best put it back in the same bag, immediately after use. A fellow thru hiker saw my bag system – “food”, “kitchen”, “miscellaneous”, “clothes” and “bear”. This obviously sadistic hiker thought it might be great fun to move things around in my bags when I wasn’t looking, just to see how I’d react. I was not amused. Nor would Sheldon if he were in my place.
Anyway the point is that you need a system to survive on the trail. Everything has to go in the pack and in a particular order. Before I start walking for the day, I ask myself “what am I likely to worry about forgetting after walking 20 paces down the trail?”
So far this has served me well. I have not lost anything, yet. The point here is that compulsiveness has its rewards, at least when you are hiking the AT. If you don’t believe me, just ask Sheldon. And while you’re doing that, I’ll get you a nice hot beverage.