Not thru*….yet.

After toying with it for about six years, it finally happened – a backpacking/camping trip. In late August i finally hiked in, camped, and hiked out of a wooded area, with no toilets and a lot of bugs.

Studley’s daughter, Pixie, is a supreme badass, hiking the length of the Appalachian Trail (AT) this year. She started walking northward from Georgia in mid-April. 2,190 miles – it takes from five to seven months to complete – and only about 20% of those who start a thru-hike complete it.

Her Dad was cheering madly, tracking her progress, and enjoying her adventure vicariously through intermittent phone calls.  Somewhere in those conversations, the prospect of the two of us joining her for a portion of the trail went from “notional” to “no shit”, and we started our own scaled-down preparations.

We started walking. Just on a flat track at the outset, but had to tackle hills. And we did. Added backpacks with some weight. Quickly realized that we were going to suffer, but just kept at it – while sorting gear lists, deciding which tent to use, meal planning.

In the meantime, Pixie kept walking. Every day, 15-20 miles. Knocking off the states – Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut… As we’d bitch about being hot, sweaty and covered in bugs on our daily walks, we reminded each other that Pixie was doing 4-5 times our mileage, over mountains, and we needed to shutthefuckup and keep walking.

We met her in Massachusetts in late August. Parked the car at a trailhead, grabbed our packs and set out for a 7 mile hike, meeting Pixie at a shelter for the night. Our mantra – “We have no idea what we’re doing. Let’s go!”

Only 7 miles. We’d been doing 3-5 miles, with loaded backpacks nearly every day for the prior two weeks, so how hard could it be? The first few miles we were completely fine – and then there were moments of “i have to adjust the strap, it’s wiggling funny on my shoulder” and calls for “rest stop” became a little more frequent. We had another hiker take this shot – for possible use on the cover of “Search and Rescue” magazine.

AT1

Pixie caught up with us about a mile short of our stop for the night. “I thought I was going to catch you a few miles back! You guys are moving right along!” Encouraging words for a couple of out of shape old farts…

Tucked into our tents shortly after dark, we were awakened to a bit of a rainstorm somewhere around 3am. The tent started leaking pretty hard. And we got seriously soaked…  But we packed up, hiked out, and — perhaps most surprisingly — didn’t die!

We have no idea what we’re doing. Let’s go!” — continues as the mantra for damn near everything we’ve been doing for the past couple of months! We are stretching. We are well outside our comfort zone! And we still have no idea what we’re doing!

S'more you do it

*i am not a fan of this spelling, with a strong preference for proper spelling “through”. This spelling is the norm for “thru-hiking” the Appalachian Trail, so i decided to go that route.

 

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Adolescent dreams…

After going through the phase where i wanted to be an Egyptologist, and then a detective, i settled onto the fairly standard childhood career choice of Astronaut somewhere around 10 years old.  Fueled in large part by the Apollo Program, with a healthy turbo-boost from Star Trek, i wanted nothing more than to go into space.

My parents were supportive and encouraging – we took a family trip to the Huntsville Space Flight Center when i was in my early teens. They were just starting to work on the Space Shuttle program, and i remember walking through a mock up of the crew compartment. Seeing the spot marked “urinal”, and trying to figure out how it would work, i asked the tour guide “Where will the women pee?” and his response straight up pissed me off: “There aren’t any female astronauts.”

That triggered a visceral response of “fuck you, buddy” “oh, yeah? wow…”

It wasn’t until my final year of high school that i gave up the notion of becoming an astronaut. It was some combination of poor lifestyle choices, and genetics, but i was fat and out of shape, and realized that there wasn’t a chance in hell i could do the push ups. My high school Physics teacher helped me sort things – he had settled on teaching after a stellar career with NASA as a research scientist, and i realized that there were careers that could support the mission, without requiring push ups.

My undergraduate institution was selected in part because of affordability, but also because it had a decent engineering program. Somehow, i managed to survive a nearly fatal freshman year (see ‘lifestyle choices, poor’), and land a co-op job in the aeronautical engineering field.

About 40 years later, i’ve just retired from a pretty decent run. i got to fly in a chopper at night (doors open). i got to watch a night launch of a Space Shuttle from the rooftop of a building about 5 miles away (as close as you can get). And i got to support a team that put a research payload in orbit…

It occurred to me today that i came remarkably close to hitting that career goal that was a nebulous thought back in my teens. At the time, i had no idea what it looked like, or would feel like. i had no concept that i would ever marry, or have a family. It’s surprising that it rolled out the way it did… with few regrets professionally.

How often does that happen? What did you think your life would feel like once you got out of the parental homestead and started life on your own? How close did you come?

potential

from my favorite motivational poster source, Despair