Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Challenge

Starting in June, we will be walking from Mt. Katahdin in Maine’s Baxter State Park to Springer Mountain in Georgia. If you factor in the extra walking we’ll be doing (such as getting into towns), this distance will be comparable to traversing the Atlantic from Canada to France. The odds of success are low. Of the 1,700 northbound hikers who registered with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in 2011, 849 made it to the halfway point (an ATC station in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia) and 432 made it to Katahdin. That makes ~25% completion rate—pretty close to that of an average year.

I’m sure there are a myriad of reasons people stop doing things in their lives, and when you throw in the physical and emotional challenges of hiking and camping in the woods, then stretch that over many months (while not making any money)… it’s not too hard to imagine a person getting to mile 500, thinking about eating the same ramen noodles for dinner that’s he’s eaten for weeks, then stubbing his toe for the eighth time that day and deciding ‘that’s IT.’ I’ve followed quite a few AT blogs, and the posts generally stop after enough seemingly small things add up.

Now, I’m not a terribly competitive person (one of many reasons why I’m unlikely to be picked first for kickball) but if someone even suggests that I can’t do something it triggers this strange, bubbly heat somewhere between my heart and my stomach. Some may suggest a resemblance to acid reflux, but my suspicion is that this is where my stubbornness has decided to take root. When this heat persists unsquelched by my brain, great things can happen—and that’s how I feel for this hike. In this case, though, there hasn’t really been anyone suggesting I can’t do this. Trying to talk me out of it, yes. Telling me outright that I may not be capable, no… except for those statistics. So if you discount the bears and the rattlesnakes (let’s not talk about those right now), it’s really the trail and my own limits (real or imagined) that I’ll be up against out there—a perfect plotline for adventure. And so to the trail (and myself) I say: Challenge Accepted.

“Let us live so that when we come to die, even the undertaker will be sorry.”     --Mark Twain

Some fun distance facts:
-If you were to head straight up from the ground, it would be at around 220 miles that you’d go into orbit.
-Virginia contains about 550 miles of the AT.
-Alaska is 1,400 miles from north to south.
-The Earth’s crust & mantle together are about 1,830 miles thick.
-The moon is 2,159 miles in diameter.
-The AT is 2,181 miles long. Woo!

Want more AT thru-hike statistics? Check out the Appalachian Trail Conservancy site:

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