look ma, i'm on a white blaze
** these notes are handwritten at shelters along the trail. i have digitized these whenever had i the opportunity.** ( march 25th, 2013)
update: i have edited these notes for clarity while keeping my sentiments and most of the original text intact.
springer mountain shelter, 8.8 total miles, 22 march, 2013
total miles on the appalachian trail: 0.
i had to rip away the pages of previous entries i had written when I was trying to deal with a particularly difficult and protracted break up so that i could write these notes down tonight, just mere hours before i celebrate a white blaze birthday i’ve been dreaming about. this entry, therefore, begins with a purge.
how’s that for an opener…
suppose that is as good an indication as any that i am finally here: to do something i’ve first dreamed about five years ago— perhaps that dream was the catalyst to all that came to pass since.
things have full circle, it seems. for it was when i first hiked the smoky mountain section of the appalachian trail all those years ago that i think woke in me. at first it was barely there, timid but inexorable it slowly became obvious, like a slow rumble atop that eventually rolls into an awesome avalanche; my life is anything but linear. while those who are and were near to me wanted to plant roots, make a home in Toronto, grow rich, live out the rest of their lives in comfortable security—bless their souls —that sort of life just wasn’t for me.
i never felt home anywhere, a condition that has become clear for me especially when i am on the move. i am home when i am not
so today i took the long way home, hiked up the 9 mile approach trail from the base of the amicalola falls to the northern terminus. located at the amicalola state park in georgia, the six hundred or so steel stair-master ascent is notoriously difficult and a tradition of sorts for at thru-hiker purists. It ascends at cruel angle along the picturesque waterfall. the majesty of the waterfall and the promise of the first white blaze are beckoning even if the stairs bring those pre-hike anxiety simmering in your stomach to a full and angry boil. it is difficult; it kicked my ass; but it was exhilarating, too. i hiked up with a fellow hiker trail-named dundee on accounts of his cowboy hat, a chatty navy reserve veteran who has done some extensive bicycling along the pacific coast cycling along the oregon coast.
i had to go slow, gauge the strength of my achilles tendon that was torn and re-stuttered together two years ago following a humble but ultimately devastating badminton injury. after keeping me in polite company, dundee overtook me inevitably. i had to remind myself again that I was here on my own terms; that i’ll walk each of these miles, starting with these stairs, one at a time, at my rhythm. and i did. 8.8 miles of the approach trail, 600+ stairs, 982 FT, 5.5 hours–just in time to hike the 0.2 miles to the springer mountain summit and shelter. so far i am on track to achieve my first goal: a much fantasized and planned for ’white blaze birthday’.
first, a few thru-hiker jargon for those who are less acquainted with what’s known as the granddaddy of long distance hiking trails in north america, the 2164+ mile long appalachian trail (at) that spans from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mt. Katadhin, Maine, passing through 14 States along the Eastern American Seaboard.
at– Appalachian Trail
thru hiker– an individual who attempts to walk the length of the hike as a single continuous trek
section hiker – individuals who take hike the trail by different sections, usually by states, over years.
slack packer – those who drive to and from a trail head and hike with our without a full pack
flip flop – unlike a georgia to maine or maine to georgia thru hike, flip floppers, like their names suggest, hike back and forth from particular points of origin for a variety of reasons. for example one may hike from georgia to harper’s ferry (halfway) and flip flop back to georgia; this is still considered thru hiking. impact of thru hiking on trail resources is significantly less when hikes are carried out as a flip-flop. the appalachian trail conservancy encourages flip flops for this reason.
white blaze – official markers of the appalachian trail
blue blaze – markers of the side trails to water, shelter or even ‘short cuts’
blue blazers – those who take short cuts to bypass sections of the AT, despised by purists
shelters – rudimentary wooden or stone platforms along the trail where the unwritten rule is that thru hikers are given priority space but not always. Shelters may be crowded in the early season and thru hiking status does not guarantee you a spot, since it is too early to earn you any sort of credit in the early stages.
lean-tos : i haven’t seen these yet but these are predominantly found in maine, even more rudimentary than shelters in the southern states.
snot-rocket – the art of blowing your nose and let fly along the side of a great mountain ridge without altering your pace; simply put one finger against the side of your nose and blow hard and swift and repeat. a real skill, i assure you!
zero day – typically a hostel/resupply day where a thru hiker binge eats and embodies laziness to a point of saintliness. zero days typically involve clean clothes, luxurious hot showers, warmer beds and lots of calorie packed foods–can be very expensive if you decide to over indulge in towns.
trail family – the people who hike with day in day out. one comes to know them very intimately, from sights to sounds to scents, i’ll leave it at that.
trail name – a nickname one acquires for quick reference along the trail. You can hike the entire trail with someone and only know their trail name and nothing whatever about their personal life. trail names are sacred and sometimes well earned. it is typically a mistake to let others name you, i am told, but i have named everyone in my trail family so far. So far I have named a few. Such names include: LT. CooCooBird, Walmart D.Bag, Chuck Nightingale, Ciel, K2Summit, Radagasta. My own is BitterGoAT (I’ll explain this one day).
ultralighters – those who carry a full backpack (including water,food, shelter and sleep system) with a total weight under 30 lbs. Crazy I know but possible, but will cost you significant amount of money or much technical know how and ingenuity. My own full pack weighs 34 lbs so far and I expect to get lighter once summer starts. update: this definition has gone under major revision since 2013 but perhaps even then.
dirtbagging – cheaper, creative alternatives to buying expensive gear; in my mind, a fun and industrious way to hike the trail. my dirtbagging attempts are: camp shoes made out of old shoe insoles and elastic bands , alcohol stove made out of pop cans, drip tray and windscreen for my stove made out of a fosters beer can, garbage bag for pack liners and waterproofing my sleeping bag, contractor garbage bag for tent foot print, coffee can wood burning stove etc.
hiker box – boxes at lodges, hostels and sometimes even trail hotels where pack heavy hikers unburden themselves: usually a good place to resupply anything from food, to equipment to supplies. i’ve heard of someone who started the trail with nothing but $200 and found everything he needed in hiker boxes along the way. So far I’ve resupplied my first aid kit, a rei waterproof side pouch for snacks, new tube for my water bladder, various stuff sacks, woof mitts, food, and even pepper spray.
I think that list should give you a fair idea of some of the hiker parlance but this list will probably amended at a later time.
back to the hike:
my trailname is BitterGoAT. Some of you may know that BitterGoAT (or Bitter Melon, actually bitter gourd) is a bitter, prickly looking vegetable from Asia, often cooked on its own, fried in a sambol, or curried with dried fish or beef. It is bitter, an acquired delicacy really, but very good for you. It cleans out your system; a natural anti-toxin. I wanted to be B-GoAT or Brown Guy on Appalachian Trail as I have yet to encounter another south asian, past or present, who has completed the trail (if you are one, or know of one, please put me in touch so that we can swap stories about the lack of diversity on the thru hiking demographic–i was recently told today that I was the first brown hiker many have seen on this trail and I don’t doubt it).
Anyway, I like Bitter-GoAT better, especially since I just had some at a Filipino restaurant in New Jersey with my cousin just prior to the hike. I feel it was portentous that i did and so I am keeping it. Besides, I am an Aries, if you are into zodiacs and such, that is.
Anyway, I am at the shelter now and will likely (and hopefully) sleep through my birthday. My arms are cramping up from this awkward position inside my sleeping bag as i figure out the optimum warmth-to ergonomic ratio for writing on a tiny note pad, while fending off the frigid drafts.
this is going to be a white blaze birthday after all—dreams do come true.
this bittergoat is going to hit the hay