Into the Wilderness, Day 1 of My Appalachian Trail Adventure

On June 1st, I drove to DFW to fly to Bangor, Maine, and begin my adventure on the Appalachian Trail. For much of the trip there was cloud cover, but as we flew over Maine, the skies cleared and I could see the coastline. I was astonished to see how much water is in Maine. There are rivers, lakes, and streams everywhere!
When I arrived in Bangor, Phil Pepin, with 100 Mile Wilderness Adventures, was waiting for me. I was relieved, thinking I might have to make a call for a pick up, but he was there…greeted me with a smile and loaded my backpack. He drove me to the 100 Mile Wilderness Camp and set me up in the bunkhouse. On the drive, Mr. Pepin apologized, in advance, for talking so much. He said he hoped I did not mind, and I was polite and answered that it was okay. He spoke incessantly and repeated many of his statements several times. There was no conversation to be had; there was only Mr. Pepin telling me how he accepted Christ as his personal savior and how the town of Monson was unfriendly and tried to jeopardize his business. He elaborated on the mundane details of his business and like a broken record, began this monologue all over again. By the time I arrived at the camp, my nerves were shot and I needed respite. There was no enjoyment to be had of the scenery and no winding down from the plane ride. I began to think something was wrong with Mr. Pepin, but once at the camp, I did unwind and rest a little; however, as soon as I emerged from the bunk house, the monologue began again, although this time it was in the Camp Kitchen and Charlotte was there. Charlotte is a hiker from New York. She met Phil some time ago, and he asked her to work full time as his campground manager. She was very pleasant, and since she was a woman who had hiked the trail in its entirety, I had questions for her. Phil offered to go through my backpack and take out the things that I did not need, and I explained that I needed to go through that process myself as a part of the whole trail experience. He offered again, and again, and again. Each time I told him no. One of my goals was to let go of things in my life which were a hindrance or no longer useful to me, and I needed to lighten my load all on my own. Much later, I learned that Phil told Charlotte, “Now that woman has some serious issues…”
…As I started researching my trip, I was confused as to the logistics of getting to Mount Katahdin. One site I found would get you to Baxter State Park, but I still had to get from Bangor to Medway by bus. Then a shuttle would pick me up and take me to Millinocket for a night and then get me to Katahdin. Whew! I found 100 Mile Wilderness Outfitters, and Phil offered to pick me up at the airport, give me a room for the night and drop me on the steps of the Hunt trail, all for a reasonable price, and I didn’t have to reserve a plane ticket, a bus ticket, a taxi, and then still have to pay for the shuttle for Baxter. All done! Even though I appreciated the services Mr. Pepin offered, I was very put off by his behavior. He was cordial to me, but I was happy to be rid of him once we got to Baxter. When he did arrive at the gates of the park, he took time to chat with the rangers (I felt like it was MY time he was taking) and when I checked in at the ranger station, he lingered and tried to convince me to get a more expensive shelter than the tent site I reserved. This was aggravating as I planned the trip a year in advance and made reservations six months in advance to get exactly what I wanted. This was my adventure, not Mr. Pepin’s.
The most disturbing part of the trip to Katahdin was Mr. Pepin’s new dialogue, which was constant and irritating. He repeated the recital of the previous day’s monologue, but he also added some words of advice, saying he was trying to encourage me. He told me, multiple times, that I was basically fat and out of shape so I should not worry too much if I couldn’t summit Katahdin. He also reminded me of my age (he is older than me) and how with all those factors combined, I might not make it through the woods. Words of encouragement? I was so angry by this constant barrage of belittling assault that once the pick-up pulled in front of the station, I grabbed a day pack and took off. He called out, “Are you heading out now?” Under my breath I said, “Fuck YES!”
Phil Pepin has hiked the Appalachian Trail three times. He is a registered Maine guide, and claims to be the only one in Maine who specializes in the Appalachian Trail. He offers shuttles into towns to get laundry done or eat out. His camp is on the blue blaze to Monson making it very convenient. The camp itself has a rustic charm and it is near the shores of Lake Hebron. Nights are very quiet (or noisy with night noise) and fireflies dance a ballet each evening while loons lull you to sleep. The place is beautiful, and Mr. Pepin’s plans for it are well-thought out. Besides the bunk house and cabins, he has forested tent sites, a shower house and two privies. There are two fire pits for clients to use. It seems to be the perfect place to relax and prepare for the mental and physical challenges of the upcoming hike. It does seem that way.
Hunt trail rescued me from that hideous man. As soon as I was enveloped in the darkness of the green forest, blanketed with moss and misted with the icy waters of Katahdin Stream, I could relax. I let the mental pollution that Mr. Pepin burdened me with drain away into the spongy bog. Day 2 of my trip was underway.

The Front Row Hiker

The adventure is about to begin. On June 1, 2014, I will fly to Bangor, Maine. From there I will stay the night at Phil’s 100milewilderness hiker hostel. On June 2, he will drop me off at the base of Mount Katahdin and my old bones will summit that peak (albeit slowly). From the top of the world, my journey will officially begin and I will attempt to hike the 2200 mile Appalachian Trail. With my faithful audience, I will share the details of life on the trail; the triumphs and the failures, the fears and joys of living on the Appalachian trail.

My grandchild Brookelynn wanted to come with me. Instead she is sending Bonesy, her little folk art doll that Uncle Andy gave her when she was a baby. Grandma and Bonesy will blog and use a video diary to tell the story of one woman (and one skeleton’s) journey. The mountain awaits.20140328_130047

Interesting Questions I am Asked About my Trip

Common Questions I am asked about my Appalachian Trail Trip

Q. Are you going with a hiking partner or group?
A. No. I’m seeking solitude, not company.

Q. Aren’t you afraid of the animals?
A. I’ll admit it, squirrels can be pretty frightening during the autumn; however, I am majoring in BIOLOGY, so no, I am not frightened of animals. At ASU, my degree plan was Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. At A&M I will study horticulture. I like being in wild places.

Q. But what about bears?
A. Research on the Appalachian Trail has provided some interesting information about bear and the frequency of attacks. It almost never happens. To be afraid of the wildlife on the trail is as illogical as being afraid of falling out of an airplane window. If I am attacked, I will be one in a million and will get my fifteen minutes of fame. I am more afraid of getting Lyme disease than getting mauled by a little black bear. Even so, I’m not really afraid of Lyme disease. I’m preparing myself for such an event, both in prevention and treatment.

Q. Won’t you get lonely?
A. If you mean human companionship, the answer is no. I have lived a very solitary existence for a while, and I enjoy it.

Q. What if someone attacks you?
A. As remote as that chance is, it is a possibility. If it happens, I will defend myself. The truth is, I am in more danger of an attack by a human being living in my quiet little town than on the trail.

Q. What if you get lost?
A. I learned basic land navigation when I was in USMC boot camp; however, I have forgotten it. Oops. I have been to many places in the world and never felt lost. The trail is well-marked with both white and blue blazes. I have maps, and will get my sons to refresh my memory in land navigation so I can find my way. I WELCOME the opportunity to get lost, but the sun will always rise in the East and set in the West. Ninety degrees from either of those is still North or South. I cannot get lost.

Q. But what are you going to do out there?
A. Explore. Sit for hours by lakes waiting for a moose to show up. Watch ants go from point A to B, and see how they spend their time while traveling. Notice the light in the forest and how it shines through the canopy. See which birds are bullies at feeding time. I have a laundry list of very important things to do, none of which will seem important to anyone but me, and perhaps my grandchild. I will hike between 5-18 miles per day. There are three meals a day which still need to be cooked, and there is setting up camp every day and then taking it down again. I will be washing my hair in cold streams, and will scrub laundry. Every mundane activity I did at home, I will do on the trail, but I will enjoy it. Every task is going to be treated like the privilege it is. I’m going to spend time in self-reflection. I’m going to day dream and write. I’m going to let my imagination go wild and I’m going to become a feral human being. I will develop a rapport with the other organisms which inhabit the same space I occupy. I will observe and leave no trace. I have plenty to do. I will even falter and think I should have never gone on such an adventure. I have plenty to do.

Q. How will you get clean water?
A. I purchased a water filtration system that Navy Seals use. I will create a video review of it once it has been “battle-tested” and my son will post a link to it on this blog.

Q. What about going to the bathroom?
A. I purchased a STP (stand to pee) device so I don’t have to bare my entire backside to urinate. I have a small shovel for digging a “cat-hole” in the same manner I was trained in by the military. I will obey the rule and “leave no trace” that I was even there.

Q. Are insects a problem?
A. Yes. I have DEET and a mosquito screen for my face. I have long sleeves and gloves. I have a good first aid kit. There are also many waterways along the trail, and mud is always nearby. Mud is very effective at deterring some insects.

Q. Are there snakes on the trail?
A. Yes. I have hiking boots and gaiters, and I was taught how to handle snakes with hooks should I ever need to move one along. I can use my trekking poles to do the same thing. No, I am not afraid of snakes, but I can be startled by them just like everyone else. I purchased a Warbonnet Hammock so I will not be sleeping upon the ground unless necessary. If necessary, I have a tarp to use as a tent for stealth camping.

Q. Who is going to take care of your house and things while you are gone?
A. I live a minimalist lifestyle at home, so there is very little to “take care of.” Still, I have been preparing for this trip for a year and arrangements have been made.

Q. How are you going to cook?
A. I purchased a Trangia 27 3UL kit, which is the Swedish military mess kit. It has an alcohol burner for fuel, but solid fuel cubes can also be used. I outfitted my alcohol stove with a layer of carbon fiber felt so the fuel lasts up to 40 minutes longer so I can even bake if I wish. I also made a wood-burning stove from an Altoid’s can in case I run out of fuel. I have a magnesium fire starter, and I brought along cotton balls with Vaseline for a quick start fire. No, I am not going to take a bow drill. I have a magnifier to use the sun for starting fires as well. I also have matches.

Q. What are you taking to eat?
A. I have a hiking menu with meals that I cook and dehydrate myself. I also use purchased freeze-dried fruits and vegetables and will make my own desserts and meals from them.

Q. Will animals get your food?
A. Maybe. I have two 50’ pieces of para-cord with karabiners for hoisting my bear bag between two trees which is a better method to secure food from bear than the PCT method. I know how to forage for food. During the first part of my trip food will be plentiful, and I know how to look for it, how to test it for safety, and how to prepare it. I also made a squirrel baffle to place over my dry sacks to prevent mice and squirrels from getting to the bags to chew through. I do not deliberately feed wild animals. It is dangerous for them, and for the hiker. That practice is what leads bear to look to humans for food. I will protect the animals from me as much as possible by protecting my food.

Q. What do you do with your trash?
A. The “Leave No Trace” practice is to take out what you pack in. A separate bag for trash is carried and hung, like the bear bags, at night. If you do not hang your trash bag, the wildlife will find it, and the opportunity for mischief or harm, will be a result of your own negligence.

Q. What if you get sick?
A. Then I will stop and undergo a five-day water fast to detox. Zero days give a hiker a good rest and the opportunity to heal.

Q. What if you decide to leave the trail. How do you get home?
A. Many people think I will not finish the trail. There are a few reasons why I would leave it. The first reason is if I am injured to the point I need medical care. I will hike to the nearest town and seek treatment, and perhaps take a bus home. Another reason to leave, temporarily, is that I am not trained to hike in snow and ice. By the time I get to North Carolina, there may be snow and ice. Even with crampons and all the cold-weather gear I am collecting, I would not be safe on the trail. I have a contingency plan, but it is not to come home. I am going to finish this trail, or die upon it. I sought out this adventure for a reason, and I refuse to give myself any excuse to fail. When I decided to join the military, I enlisted in the Marine Corps, because I knew boot camp was harder than the other services. I expected to fail, but I didn’t. When I decided to serve the troops, I became a contractor and lived and worked in a war zone. I could have served the troops from the safety of my recliner, but I didn’t. When my family opened the Blue Dolphin Dive Shop and I was asked to become an open-water diver and instructor, I did not even know how to swim under water. The night before classes began, I learned to swim underwater. What one person can achieve, anyone can achieve. I can do this. I may be the only person who thinks so, I but I do think so. Failure is possible, but it is certainly not probable. I don’t care how long it takes me to complete it. I will complete it.

Q. Are you afraid of dying out there?
A. No. We all live and we all die. I would rather die doing something I love, but I don’t anticipate my death upon the trail. This is an adventure that will result in achievement. If it wasn’t a little dangerous and a little hard, the achievement would mean nothing. I would rather die out there than not try at all.