By Cheryl Falkenburg
When Arlene and I were planning our hike with Lindsey and Kyle on the Appalachian Trail, we might have envisioned leisurely “Walk in the Woods” type days through bucolic meadows, pausing on top of peaceful mountains to enjoy the sweeping vistas of green rolling hills; and ending our thirteen mile day for an evening around a crackling camp fire sipping Oolla Scotch from silver flasks smuggled from home. Little did we anticipate the life Lindsey and Kyle have been living on the trail, despite their frequent blogs that portray humorous accounts of land and characters. What we came away with at the end of six days of grueling heat and high humidity, trails that climbed straight up to the top of a rocky summits only to provide a peak-a-boo view of the landscape, and campsites infested with armies of mosquitoes was a supreme sense of wonder at what they are accomplishing – oh, and terribly sore and blistered feet.
We began our adventure on the 17th of July after taking the Red Eye and arriving in Connecticut already travel weary. Marilyn, the Cookie Lady from Lee, ferried us to Cornwall Bridge where we met up with Kyle and Lindsey. HOW WONDERFUL it was to see them both, although thinner and HAIRIER. Lindsey immediately sorted through our bags and made us leave any extra clothes and other odds and ends – like my comb and Arlene’s mirror – behind. Little did she know that I also had the very same mirror stashed away, although, what we could possibly want to see in that mirror became a mystery to us. I think just being able to pull one over on Lindsey became an accomplishment worth attaining. All sorted and re-packed with Lindsey and Kyle carrying a majority of the burden, we continued south to Kent where we began our hike – that very day! We headed out into the 97 degree – 90 percent humidity day hoping to hitch a ride to the trail head, but instead, had to walk along a very hot asphalt road to the head of the Appalachian Trail! We snapped a photo of the beginning of our walk, officially becoming Section Hikers. Not half a mile in, Arlene was steaming up our first hill, but my body was crashing. Lindsey and Kyle had all of the tools for any situation and had me wash down some instant energy powder which did the trick and we were able to make camp after seven long miles.
Lindsey and Kyle (did I mention that he was recovering from Lyme’s Disease?) set up camp and cooked our meals, helping to ease us into the daily routine. Shoveling in our delicious camp food, we quickly toasted our trip with a shared flask of Oolla Scotch. Then, as quickly as we could, we climbed into our tents to try and sleep through a sticky night. Thus began our six days on the Appalachian Trail with our trusty guides.
We camped at AT Shelters which were situated near water sources and had a privy for doing #2 (the woods were used for everything else) and cleared areas for setting up your tents. Often there was a picnic table for preparing your meals, but not always. Once we had a platform to set our tent on, but mostly used the bare ground. Once it rained all night and we had to have our fly on which caused more heat and humidity inside our tent making it even more difficult to get sleep. Every day after hiking (we averaged 10 miles a day, not our hoped for 13, but were assured that this was really a pretty good accomplishment since it was SO hot), we set up camp, tried to find a place to soak our feet, prepared our meal (Lindsey did that) washed our dishes (Kyle did that) and climbed into our tent.
Hiking began earlier each day – we realized we needed to try and beat the heat of the day by starting earlier each morning. We consulted the trusty “map” which wasn’t a map so much as it was a graph of the hills and dells. It ended up looking like an EKG monitor and feeling like one as well. We would gauge how far we were going to go based on how many spikes were on the graph and where there was available shelter and water. Trails were marked with a white blaze on trees or on rocks. White was the blaze color for the Appalachian hikers, blue blazes signified another trial – sometimes an easier route. But serious Through Hikers only take the white blaze. The intrepid adventurers who blazed the AT must have been snickering to themselves as they envisioned sending foot weary trekkers up the side of a rocky hillside rather than take the flat route around that arrived at the exact same spot a couple hundred feet away. Maybe they were intent on insuring that all those hikers got the most out of their travels by viewing the incredible sites, but often those vistas were blocked by trees that must have grown up in the years since the trail was built.
I think back on the “training” I did to prepare myself for this adventure – the walks that became hikes; the shakedown overnight camping trip, and the trips to REI to make sure we had the right equipment and then inventing the mantra: Just put one foot in front of the other, that is how I am going to make it on the trail. Out of all of that, my mantra is the one thing that kept me going. There wasn’t anything that prepared me for the heat and the difficulty of sleeping out in it and the walking and hiking I did in the NW could not possibly have prepared my poor feet for the rocks, roots and incredible inclines and declines that the AT asked of them. After my first day coming down the side of a mountain of boulders, I knew my left little toenail wasn’t going to make it. Both little toes ended up with huge blisters, there were blisters on the balls of my feet and inside my big toe and even on the heel of my feet. Every morning I would tape them and shove them back inside my boots knowing that it would take a quarter of a mile before my toes became numb to the pain. Stopping for anything would cause the entire experience to be repeated. So – the mantra became all important – one foot in front of the other – just keep walking just keep walking.
Hikers all had trail names – Stink Bug, Honey Bun, Crash, Lost, Rabbit, Steamer, Thinker, Dump Truck, Clever Girl……. we met them on the trail, camped with them, learned some of their stories, parted, met them again at a campground or in town, read the messages they left in logs and shared their agony over the extreme heat and humidity. Hairy, lean, seasoned hikers with months of hiking behind them – they were generous and friendly with their stories and advise. We all shared one thing in common – our hiker smell.
Lindsey had her 24th birthday out on the AT. We hiked our ten miles up and over Mt. Everett and into Great Barrington where we stayed at a Dayz Inn. Showers, soft beds, restaurant food, and a place to sit – all luxuries. We ended our night with Euker and SoCo ice cream.
What did I learn from six days on the AT? Lindsey and Kyle are rock solid, tried and tested. So kind to one another, supportive, sweet and loving. This is quite a fete of accomplishment and testimony to their relationship and character – Lindsey is strong, stubborn and determined – marching like a line backer down that trail with her 25+ lb pack each morning, trekking poles beating out a steady tap and Kyle, quiet and steady following her North. The fact that they can climb into that tent night after night and spend hours chatting and laughing with each other makes me believe they are headed in the right direction.