It’s harder than it looks

So having embarked on the section hike planning in earnest the above phrase is coming to mind more and more as I work on this trip.  I am roughly two months away which at first seems like a long time and will it ever get here.  Then suddenly it seems like I will not have enough time to do all that I need to do to be prepared.  Fitness, FAK (first aid kit) setup, logistics, meals, travel, and the thousand other things I haven’t thought of.  I hear Donald Rumsfeld in my ear going, “We have known unknowns and unknown  unknowns, and things we know we know. Then there’s the other stuff your forgetting manerd.”  Out damn spot, out!  Maybe I should attempt a post were everything is a quote from a movie, TV show or play.  Let’s save that for another time, shall we.

Take travel for instance.  I live in Mississippi and want to get to Atlanta, GA.  Please know that MS is no longer in the stone age.  Heck, we’ve even progressed past the steam age.  We wear shoes and everything and I quit dating my sister years ago. Unfortunately with all those advances in technology, transportation and moral and genetic tomfoolery done with, it’s harder than it looks.

The initial idea was to take the bus.  Know that I haven’t ridden a commercial public transit bus in over two decades.  I’m praying things have advanced but I’m told, not really.  I’m okay with it cause it’s cheap. As of this posting, $50 one way to Atlanta, GA.  That’s cheap.  Less than a tank of gas that would definitely not get me to Atlanta in my personal car.  I’m willing to dive into the deep end of the people of WalMart gene pool to save a few bucks.  Problem is, I have to catch a bus at 4 a.m. to be in Atlanta by 2 p.m. the same day.  Still not bad but a long ride to be certain.  Also, there is the unbelievable security measures for the luggage on the bus.  I’m going on a hike.  There are certain thing you take with you on a hike.  Knife, cook kit, fuel, tent stakes…all verboten for even checked luggage under the bus.  I understand the fuel. I get that.  But the rest, under the bus while I’m ridding in the bus at 70 MPH.  How am I gonna get to the tent stake to hold at the driver’s throat to hi-jack the bus so we can go to Disney where I can seek asylum in the It’s a Small World After All ride instead of going to Atlanta?

Now I’m looking to just fly.  Decidedly, not cheap, but still cheaper than driving myself and dealing with a car left behind.  Plus, I can pack anything into the backpack, sans fuel, and check the baggage and travel in half the time and twice the style. Karma will likely put me next to a two year old with an ear ache at 10,000 feet.  That’ll teach me to pee in the bus gene pool.

Now I have to decide departure dates. Trying to save vacation days, which are like gold, for the end of the year when I can have some extra quality time with the wife and kids. Price matters here as well since the flight is over $100 cheaper if I leave on a Wednesday instead of a Thursday.  Oh well, one extra day on the trail.  A couple more meals to pack.

I think the physical exertion on the trail will be a welcome respite compared to this madness.

I hope to post on the FAK I’m setting up later this weekend and perhaps a surprise in the clothing department. Scary!

Till then…..HYOH.

The tip of a dream

For many years I’ve harbored a dream.  I don’t remember when it was or how old I was.  I suspect I was in my twenties when I read an article in a magazine. Can’t even remember the magazine but the article was about this guy who decided he was going to hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.  Phenomenal. To do such a thing was unfathomable to me. To hike 2178 miles over the course of 4 to 6 months was awe inspiring. I wanted to do that.  But how?

Thus began the on again off again sporadic reading of accounts on the AT and hikers adventures across this wonderful swath of green and rock and dirt and distance. This is no small thing.  Small people may attempt it but should they complete it, they will have stepped into a realm of greatness not easily measured in this world by mere men. Even today when I speak of this dream out loud, the instantaneous responses are profoundly amusing to me.  “You’re out of your mind.” “You can’t do that.” Why would you do that?”  “That is insane, I can’t believe you would think about that.”  At each rebuff I find myself grinning as though I’m the only sane one in the room and they are all children with no understanding of what is being presented to them. Silly rabbits, long distance hikes are for giants.  I know giants, and you sir or madame, are no giant.

The dream turned down the path that leads to reality about two years ago.  I got back into the woods camping and was able to do some hiking (modest by comparison to say the least) and fall in love with the outdoors all over again.  I have a young son who has enjoyed the camping and hiking some and has been an excellent opportunity to bring us closer together and give us a common interest to enjoy. But hammocks have truly opened the doors of imagination and possibility like nothing else. To sleep in blissful comfort. To have an elevated perspective, as we call it. To cradle a body that suffers from the perils of a misspent youth, is nothing short of a miracle and has allowed me to get out more in the last year than I’d done in over 40 years.  Hammocks have been the tipping point of this dream turning to the potential that it could truly happen.  I’ll blog later on hammocks. Trust me, I can go on for hours.  This is about the dream of the AT.

So fast forward to or flash back depending on your perspective, to my wife back at the first of this year trying to decide where we could do a family vacation. We have two kids, Noah who is twelve (will be thirteen in October – heaven help us) and Bailey who turned 9 in February.  She looked at beaches, out east, out west, up north and everywhere else one looks when thinking of ideas for such a venture.  I quietly suggested we go back to the Smokies. We had had a good time in that tourist trap of commercial hillbilly capitalism that runs from Sevierville to Gatlinburg, TN.  It’s campy and crazy and full of fast fun and silliness.  It is also a hare’s breath away from, you guessed it, the AT.  The AT runs through the GSMNP (Great Smoky Mountain National Park) and is easily accessible by numerous roads and trail heads in that area.

Now I’m not a foolish man.  I mention nothing of my ulterior motives to the wife or the kids.  It’s all about the things we didn’t do the last time we were there and how we had such a good time with the kids and I’m selling it,selling it, selling it. Hard.  And well.  Now before you begin to accuse me of manipulation, let me just stop you right there and tell you.  I am.  I own it proudly.  In the vernacular, it’s a win win for everyone involved. They have a great time, I have a great time and my dream gets a little taste to see if it is everything I’ve built it up to be in my mind.

I’ve read over a dozen books on the subject over the last year and seen in print the good, the bad, and the ugly of hiking 2100 miles in snow, rain, muck, heat, bugs, snake, bears, rock, and wind day in and day out for months.  Now that didn’t sound very appealing.  To be certain, it is no cake walk (pun intended). My vision of this is hard, uncomfortable, dangerous.  It is also potentially rewarding, cathartic, enlightening, and epic.

She and the kids bite the bait, darn near swallow it whole and I’ve masterfully set the hook and have all but reeled them in and cooked them up.  Mission accomplished.  Now to get the pan ready.  I say to the wife, “How about I go ahead of you guys and get a couple days in hiking and meet you in Sevierville?”  She looks knocked off kilter just slightly but she knows this hiking and hammock disease is terminal.  I’m not letting go of that and being the gracious and loving wife she is, says in a confused and cautious tone, “I guess, so. That seems okay.” She’s worried I’ll be eaten by a bear. Possible. I’m a little gamey at my age.  She’s worried I’ll get lost.  Possible but there are literally hundreds of people on the trail at this time of year also looking for a piece of the dream. While I’ll be alone, I’ll never truly be alone.

Thus begins the tip of the dream.  In late May I will be doing a section hike of the AT.  Nothing grandiose.  Just 30 or so miles over 4 days, on my own.  Why do it you are still thinking. Well, to see if a full blown thru hike is even a possibility for me.  To me, the greatest regret would be to start that adventure only to discover a few days or weeks in that I don’t have the metal to do it.  That I was a small person, unable to do this great thing.  That would be a disappointment I don’t think I could live with.

So this is a test.  I have every confidence in my equipment. I know that I know that I know I have the correct, lightest, most efficient and essential items needed for me to complete a thru hike.  I have every confidence in my physical ability.  I’m not an Adonis.  I’m a grinder.  I have the ability to put my head down and do the work. Slow and steady, hour after hour after hour.  In some ways, it appeals to me.  No, these are not areas of concern.  For me, it’s the mental aspect.  I enjoy being alone, me time. However, days on end of just me, myself and I can be mentally challenging.  The daily get up, hike, eat, hike more, eat more, hike even more, stop, eat, sleep, repeat, again, and again, and again….this can make for a type of madness some are neither prepared for or capable of surviving.  It won’t be the bear that eats you but the gray matter melting that does you in.  Those who have done the AT from Georgia to Maine will tell you that the trail is 90% mental.  Overcoming injuries, loneliness, being homesick, being sick, tired, wet, cold, hot, covered in dirt, flies and your own particular odoriferous funk can drive you to madness, or worse, to quit.

I’ll continue to blog about the preparations, the plans and ultimately the actual hike.  I’m not counting on a particular outcome either way.  I know, and I think my wife knows, that I’ll either get this AT thru idea out of my system, or it will be moved from dream to goal and more madness will ensue.  Either way, I’ll be happy with the outcome. I won’t be chasing after vain things wasting energy or I’ll be blissfully grinding and honing the dream to a fine edge and when I do it, I’ll do it. A great thing.  A grand thing. Something epic.

Hills Worth Dying For; the Work Edition

In the interest of full disclosure, one should know that while I am not old, I am what most would by definition consider “old school”.  I’m even a little put off by the term because it at once classifies me and labels the current and sub-current generations of working men. Depending on your perspective, a compliment to me and an indictment of the latter.  It should be noted that the converse could also be the case.

I grew up a milkman’s kid and so accordingly I worked the route with my Dad in the summer time and got a free education on work ethic, square dealing, taking care of people in general not just because they are your customer and flirting with every woman every place we went regardless of how pretty (or not) she was.  These things were and still are of great value to me in my daily life. Especially flirting with women.

From all of that education I developed a sense of responsibility to those who employed me.  I work for them and a pay check but there is a sense of honor and dignity that drives me to make their business better and to protect it from any danger, including from within, sometimes it’s own ownership.

Now before you think I’m patting myself on the back or singing my praises or before any of you start to pat me on the back or sing my praise, know that I see this as a blessing and not of myself. I will give all the praise that may come from this work “style” to God. I am fully aware that He has orchestrated my life and my life experiences to yield this vary trait and non of this is original to me. If I am a gifted vessel it is because He has made me so.  Nothing more.

My previous job was a hell on earth.  I ran operations for a furniture start up in another state for the better part of two yeasr.  Why would I do it if it was hell?  Well, like most things, it didn’t start out that way. It started out great and over time I was given more responsibility and asked to do more leadership in the company.  The trouble began when I saw issues coming up that needed to be addressed by ownership and key decisions made to further the company.  I spoke frankly but respectfully to ownership about it and was continually told, “We appreciate all that you are doing for us and we understand what you need.  Just hang in there with us a little longer and we’ll get there.”  Problem was these were promises that would not be kept.  The ownership team had a difference of opinions on how the company should be set up, which business plan we would follow, how we should buy product, and many more minor issues but all of it added up to a dysfunctional vision for where the company was going and I was tasked with making all of it run as smoothly as possible.  If it had four legs and someone could sit on it or two legs and worked in the place, I was responsible for it. This included the physical buildings as well. To say that it was frustrating to be held responsible but be completely unheard when I showed them clearly and plainly what the issues were and how to resolve them, would be a gross understatement.  Add to that the fact that my family were still living in another state some 500 miles away and I was able to see them, at best, every other weekend.

The tragedy was that I let it all get to me. It turned me into a person I hated, was ashamed off and I took a few really good people down with me. I was able to part ways with the company reasonably but the damage was done.

I managed to get back home with the family and was fortunate to find a job quickly (at less than half what I was making) that was pretty much the exact opposite of the stress level I was under in the previous job.  It was about this time that I discovered hammocks and rediscovered camping and this was a great benefit in the healing process. It’s a small company but definitely a leader in their market and I have been able to bring a lot of experience and productive processes to the table to help them grow and support the growth over the last three years.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago where I hit the wall so to speak.  I had been advising ownership for the better part of three years that they needed to get their personal “junk” out of the warehouse.  It was taking up valuable real estate and was not generating revenue for the business.  I had also been telling them for the better part of two years that the time was quickly approaching when the warehouse would be maxed out due to current levels of buying and greatly increased sales.  All, falling on deaf ears. It all came to a head when several weeks ago I’m literally stacking merchandise where I can, still factory wrapped, un-inspected because there is no where to put anything more in the warehouse. To further exacerbate the issue, we had a record January meaning we would have record receipts in February and there was no where to receive it.  I spoke politely but frankly to my boss and the owners and reminded them that I was being held responsible for all this but was not being given the assistance I needed and had asked for two years running.  I then reminded them that I quit a job that paid me more than double what I was making now for the same reason.

Was I really willing to quit because no one would listen to me? Yes, yes I was. Not out of spite or anger but out of an understanding that I had been in that same position just a few short years ago. Tasked with a particular responsibility and held accountable for the results but not given the tools to do it with or listened to when asking for help.  There will be some that would say I should have taken more control and just done what needed to be done.  Others will say I should have sucked it up and done the best I could.  Well, they may be right. The point is I’m old school. I’m willing to be accountable, to make the hard decisions and be held responsible if it all goes to, well, you know.  I take it seriously, perhaps too much so, and I don’t compromise on this.  I simply don’t know how to.  Too much milkman’s kid in me to do it any other way.

For me, to not become what I had seen myself become in that previous job (a grade A jerk), to not have to go through the pain and shame of what happened there, was a hill worth dying for. There are and will be others.  The thing is I can only recognize them by past experience and staying grounded in the word of God.  To know truth and what is good and holy and righteous and of good repute is only found by studying the genuine article.  When they train Treasury agents to spot counterfeits, they don’t use counterfeits, they use the genuine article. They study and know the real deal bill so completely, they can spot a fake a mile away.

I’m still doing the same job, but I’m working hard to make sure that I not only protect and prosper the company but also protect myself as well.  May God grant me the grace and wisdom to know which hills are worth dying for.