• The Longing

    Preparing to hike the Appalachian Trail
    ďThe LongingĒ
    Virginia Beach, Virginia 1/3/2015

    It started with By: Lillie A Stack
    jealousy of my sonís freedom. He and his friends grabbed the freedom to explore Europe, to be free from responsibility for a small time. I had never had that much freedom and I wanted it.

    Three years ago my son Nick and his friend Alex decided they were going to walk Spainís El Camino de Santiago, a Christian pilgrimage thousands of people begin each year from popular starting points across Europe, to make their way to Santiago de Compostela. Most travel by foot, some by bicycle, and a few on horseback or donkey. Many take it as a religious pilgrimage, following in the footsteps of Saint James the Apostle, the Way he took to his final resting place.[1]





    I was skeptical of Nick completing it. He weighs all of 145 lbs. and looks like he needs to be force fed. At about five eight, you would think a stiff breeze could blow him away. He has never been one for exercise. He played quad drums in his high school marching band and he was a sight; a tall stick with four large bulges at his waist. It was a true wonder he didnít fall over from all that weight. He earned a Bachelorís degree in Jazz Studies from University of New Orleans and is now a working musician. You know, sleep all day, work half the night, drink the rest

    To my surprise, Nick and Alex walked the entire 500 mile Pilgrimage. In toe shoes, no less.

    For six weeks Nick sent me post cards, posted photos to Facebook and Skyped with me. I was reminded I've always longed to travel somewhere, to see other places, for a break from what my generation deems ďnormalĒ. I could never put my finger on where or what it was exactly that I longed for. The Camino is a Pilgrimage you walk to cleanse your spirit. Iím not a spiritual person, so if not this, what?




    A few years later Nick told me he, Alex and their friend Tomas were going to hike the 215 mile John Muir Trail, which begins in Yosemite National Park, California, and ends at Mount Whitney, at 14,505 feet the highest summit in the contiguous United States. They would take three weeks to thru-hike the trail and would carry all they needed on their backs.

    I began researching the JMT and backpacking. I told myself that I'm still his Mom, so I worry. I needed to know the dangers and what was needed for that kind of adventure. But that wasnít all of it. The truth was I wanted to go. I found myself demanding of myself: Why was I always the responsible one left at home while everyone else went to find excitement, adventure, solitude? I was again jealous of my son and his freedom.

    I knew he would need to keep it light. I suggested that I help lighten his expenses a bit by dehydrating some of his meals. I had just been gifted a small dehydrator and had been drying fruit with it. I thought this would be a great way to be involved without actually being on the trip. He jumped on that idea right away! I mean, free food? He found a great site, www.thrueat.com, and picked meals he thought he would enjoy. I started dehydrating veggies and meat. It was so cool! I loved it - watching the reduction in weight by removing the water, rehydrating the veggies at home to get a feel for time and texture. I also liked knowing I was making healthy meals and he was eating ďMamaís HomemadeĒ food on the trail. I hoped I could give him a little comfort in case things got hard. I put words of encouragement on each meal, along with the preparation instructions.




    As I did this I started reading Wild, by Sheryl Strayed, and as I read of Strayedís struggles this small flutter started in my gut. It was nothing yet, just a flutter, a tiny longing.

    The meals were ready along with the rest of the equipment and Nick and his mates drove out to Yosemite to start their hike. He texted me along the way - they were driving the trail to drop resupply boxes along the way, they left the car at the terminus of the hike, they hitched back to their starting point. I always knew where they were and what was happening. I lived through those texts, the closest I could come to being there.

    Meanwhile, I finished Wild, and the flutter became a beat, though I didn't know what I was going to do with it. I mean, Hell! I was 55 years old, fat, out of shape, and the most non-athletic person I knew. I couldn't even walk up stairs without wheezing. I could never think of hiking. But it's s all I was thinking about. Oh, to be alone on a mountain, responsible for only me.


    Wouldn't that be wonderful?




    Nick and his buddies are three days into their hike and Nick texts me that already Alex has had problems. His tent collapsed in high wind and the poles broke. It rained the first two days. Now it's day three and while filtering water, Alex fell in the river. Then he cut his foot badly. Heís fed up, frustrated and is staying put to dry out. He encourages Nick and Tomas to move on to the next campsite, he will catch up. After much soul searching they continue. Iím texting back, trying to be as supportive as possible. They hike on to the next camp site, or so they think. They veered inadvertently from the trail and hiked instead to a campsite meant for the following night. They are now two days ahead of Alex and there is no way to reach him. Nick texts me in a panic. Distraught at leaving his friend behind, exhausted and with sinking spirits, Nick canít think productively. He calls me. We talk out all the scenarios of what can be done. They can't stay where they are for two days, thereís too little time, food and money. Other hikers coming to the campsite tell them Alex is okay and back on the trail. They wait a day and he catches up, exhausted. He has had enough. Nick and Tomas reluctantly say goodbye and continue.

    I'm surprised how close I feel to all this, as if it were my hike. I find myself wondering, what would I do if I found myself in that situation? I really don't know, but I want to find out.

    On day six I get a distressing text from Nick. He is ill. He's having chest pains, and trouble breathing, he is light headed and having trouble with the feeling in his extremities. He canít finish. I'm devastated. I try and convince him to just lay low for a day, but he wants to go home. I'm sorry for Nick. I know how much he has invested in this. He planned for a year, saved for a year, and now it's over.

    I feel like it has happened to me. I had invested so much of my desire and yearning into Nickís hike. I was hiking vicariously through my son. Although I would never want Nick to believe this, I feel as if I were also let down.

    Yet that beat inside me got louder and stronger. I'm not sure why, but I knew that in order to do something about that beat I must take better care of myself. I joined a fitness center and after a few months I was stronger, faster. I began to feel better than I had in years. That beat got stronger too, and became a longing, like the longing I felt for my son when he was away from me. Now I was sure: I would hike.

    Where? Retrace my sonís footsteps, find my own? While my son was between hikes, all he did with his outdoor friends was talk about hiking, and as a result, he talked to me about their plans. Nick and his friend Jason planned to thru hike the Appalachian Trail in 2016. As they planned they asked others to join them. Because they would be going through so many states and knew people in most of them, they had people wanting to join them a few days here and there. I thought, thatís it! Perfect for me. I would have someone to hike with, someone experienced, people I knew and loved. I was so pumped!

    But neither Nick nor Jason could afford it. I found myself with this uncontrollable beat I couldn't stop, pushing me to hike, and no one to hike with. Could an old lady hike alone?

    That beat is stronger than me. I know I have to hike and I need to do it now. I can't be away from my husband for a six month thru hike but I live in Virginia, the Appalachian Trail is almost in my backyard. I can section hike the Virginia leg of the AT. I can hike it myself. Iím going.

    The day after I made that decision I spoke to my trainer, Amber, telling her of my plan. Amber was very supportive and together we made a one year training plan to get me in the kind of shape it takes to backpack 550 miles on the AT. That very same day I started the hard work to get me there.

    It's seven in the morning. I usually sleep until nine. But at this ridiculous hour I'm on the treadmill at the fitness center. Two miles in 30 minutes? Not bad for an old broad.

    Next is squats, up and down, up and down, like endless hills.

    I hate squats.





    [1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Via_Francigena
    Comments 6 Comments
    1. Redbud's Avatar
      Redbud -
      I'm glad you listened to yourself, finally. Sounds like you had to shout The Virginia section seems like a good way to do this. 550 miles at a time will get you through the whole trail in less time than you've spent longing to do it. I'm retiring next Spring, and planning either a section hike or a flip-flop thru hike starting in Virginia around the 10th of April (I have not been able to muster enthusiasm on the home front for being gone 6 months!). If you come across a pack beside a stream, and see another old broad fly fishing, that's probably me. I picked Virginia for reasons only an angler would understand: with the longest stretch of the trail running through it, it's the one state where I can get my money's worth out of a non-resident fishing license. When are you planning to start?

      I'm glad to see you're doing squats and running. I know a lot of people say you train for the hike by hiking, but I think that's lousy practice for people who have a lot of miles on their joints. Get the muscles in shape first, so they can take some of the weight off the joints.
    1. SueJhiker's Avatar
      SueJhiker -
      I have the same longing Lillie. I too am 55/F and live vicariously through my daughter, who is a white water rafting guide on the Chattooga River in GA/SC. But I want to have my own adventure, and long to hike the trail. Any updates on your progress?
    1. Diamondlil's Avatar
      Diamondlil -
      Quote Originally Posted by SueJhiker View Post
      I have the same longing Lillie. I too am 55/F and live vicariously through my daughter, who is a white water rafting guide on the Chattooga River in GA/SC. But I want to have my own adventure, and long to hike the trail. Any updates on your progress?
      I hiked this past summer. I was unable to complete the entire State of Virginia. I began my hike June first and hiked for three weeks. I was only able to make 143 miles before my knees gave out. I ended in Pearisburg, VA with multiple fractures in both shins and arthritis in my knees.

      Since then I've been out on the AT twice and have covered about 30 additional miles. I am planning to hike out again next May for three to four weeks and try and finish VA.

      You know, its only yourself stopping you from being and doing. Once you realize this, you can do and be, anything.
    1. Greenmountainguy's Avatar
      Greenmountainguy -
      I am training for more strenuous walking by carrying an IF pack filled with water bottles for a total weight of about 26 lbs. I carry it when doing my evening walks, or at least did so before it started getting dark too early to be walking near traffic. It seems to work and it gets muscles working that are not readily trained in any other way.
    1. Hikeleslie's Avatar
      Hikeleslie -
      I started hiking because of the movie THE WAY, was initially planning on doing the pilgrimage till I learned about the AT. Ive started section hiking in 2014, I would like to cover more territory next spring. I admire your drive, I know what its like to feel obligated to stay home, but its our turn, one step at a time...
      Leslie

      Quote Originally Posted by Diamondlil View Post
      I hiked this past summer. I was unable to complete the entire State of Virginia. I began my hike June first and hiked for three weeks. I was only able to make 143 miles before my knees gave out. I ended in Pearisburg, VA with multiple fractures in both shins and arthritis in my knees.

      Since then I've been out on the AT twice and have covered about 30 additional miles. I am planning to hike out again next May for three to four weeks and try and finish VA.

      You know, its only yourself stopping you from being and doing. Once you realize this, you can do and be, anything.
    1. quads4life's Avatar
      quads4life -
      The movie, (and the book) "Wild" started the same longing in me. Now it's all I think of. I tell my friends it is like a "calling". I'm in the early planning stages of a Virginia section hike in 2017. My wife thinks I'm nuts (at 55). I just continue to read and watch videos until May, or July.
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