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Travels With An Airhead

The Appalachian Trail, Part 2

— by Notch Miyake

Those of us that spend winter in Rochester are so sun-deprived by spring that we want to spend all summer outdoors. This explains the popularity of motorcycles and convertibles in the northeast. As compared to Hawaii, where open-air transportation is more of a nuisance.

It also explains why I agreed to go on the Appalachian Trail with Margaret. (Remember, it was her idea.) The thought of a long walk in the woods, in the warm sun, was comforting as we collected our equipment in the gloom of winter.

I should have paid more attention to the stuff we were collecting: Backpacks with enough capacity to carry ten days of inedible dried food. Inedible dried food. An ultra light stove and pot to cook inedible dried food. A water purifier. A tiny ultra light tent. Sleeping bags and mattress pads so thin and light they were almost nothing. CoolMax clothing that could wick all the sweat away from our skin. To someone deeply committed to western civilization, I should have seen that these purchases represented a step backward, into the dark ages.

But, in winter, in Rochester, one is easily fooled by the high-tech materials and the bright, cheerful colors. All backpacking stuff is bright and cheerful, like the blaze orange vests the chain gangs wear while picking up trash along the highways. It really looked like fun.

One of our most colorful purchases turned out to be the most useful. We bought expensive Patagonia rain suits and wore them almost every day.

It was the wettest summer ever experienced on the Appalachian Trail. Thru-hikers who began the Trail in late winter in Georgia, walked through cold rain the entire way. Most who began in the south, quit after a couple of months of misery.

So, what is it like to walk in the rain for days on end?

Miserable is an understatement. The trails were always muddy, but in the rain, the mountainside trails turn into streams that sometimes become waterfalls over the rock faces we had to climb.

We crossed the summit of Saddleback Mountain, above the tree line, with 60 mph winds driving the rain in horizontal sheets. I had to take off my glasses so I could see at all. We had to traverse three miles across the open saddle, leaning into the wind to keep from being blown off. We huddled behind a rock to eat our lunch of oily cheese and damp crackers.

One night we camped just outside the Mahoosic Notch, a demented mile-long jumble of house-size rocks that took us all day to cross. It was beginning to get dark and we had no chance of making the lean-to. It was raining. Everything was wet. We had inedible dried food to eat. The economy stunk. Things were going badly in Iraq. The environment was in tough shape. It was all George Bush's fault.

— Copyright © 2004 by Notch Miyake.

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