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Travels With An Airhead

The Appalachian Trail

— by Notch Miyake

First of all, you must understand that this is not my idea. Although I admit that I am beginning to get excited by the project, I would never propose walking 2,160 miles along the ridge of the Appalachian Mountains. But Margaret has wanted to do the Appalachian Trail for a long time. And now that she is retiring, she will not be deterred. She is presently struggling with a principal from hell, and will probably need all of the six months it will take to walk the Trail to get her head back together.

The last time Margaret tried to get me to do the Appalachian Trail was on her 50th birthday. She said she wanted to do something meaningful, so I suggested the Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, a 500-mile walk across northern Spain. It was shorter and more civilized. No bugs, bears, endless views of trees, going weeks at a time without a shower, eating awful food, sleeping on the ground, and shitting in the woods.

We went on the Pilgrimage and it was fun. We walked over comfortable terrain. We slept in pilgrim refuges. We ate in wonderful little Spanish cafes and drank great wine every day. I learned enough Spanish to communicate effectively. OK, I only learned one word, cerveza, but it was enough. I found that if I drank enough cerveza with mi amigos, language differences melted away.

But the Appalachian Trail is not some bullshit pub-crawl across Spain. This is serious walking, damn near the whole length of the East Coast. With the elevation changes, it is like climbing Everest seven times. Serious shit.

We might even have to do some planning to avoid hypothermia, starvation, snakebites, bear attacks, malaria, lockjaw, rabies, cooties, mad cow disease, and other common ailments on the Trail. As you know, I usually refuse to plan because it tends to eliminate all adventure and discovery. But finding cooties while leisurely scratching one's privates is a bit too much adventure and discovery even for me.

So I started planning and came across ultra-light backpacking. This is a practice rooted in the principle that backpacking is fundamentally miserable, and no amount of extra stuff can make it better. In fact, carrying extra stuff only adds to the misery. Instead, ultra-light backpacking lightens your load so you can move faster, thereby reducing the amount of time you have to suffer.

But, you are asking, if it is so bad, why do it at all? Well, it's cheap. It's simple. It doesn't waste resources. But mostly it is freedom. The same kind of freedom we experience when we ride our motorcycles, but without the worry of speeding tickets or the car turning left ahead of us. Just walking, or not, as we choose, into the future. In these troublesome times, it is worth a try.

— Copyright © 2003 by Notch Miyake.

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