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This is a rant about internet. Most likely, your time would be better spent stopping right here; consider fair warning — conveyed. But if you know those old business school / marketing 101 tropes about case studies regarding how you can turn a terrible travesty into a bonefide boon for your company, ala Tylenol, then read on.

So. Tonight, I’m trying to get after some nerdy how-to on sorting photos, and it seems like maybe this 3rd goog result has my perfect answer. It’s a Wired article. I click over, and all’s going well. I’m reading for about TWENTY SECONDS, and suddenly the page completely changes.

initially_cool

It’s true. I’m browsing using Firefox, I run with NoScript, and I manually approve any/all domains that I allow to run scripts. But, the “error” message touches a heartstring. I agree, everyone’s gotta make a buck, so where do I sign up? Let me approve you, Wired, and let you scrape my data and let me read your reporter’s great wisdom.

And then, I hit the NoScript button to see what’s running, in order to allow the page to operate as intended:

awful_wired-com_noscript

And just like that, I immediately take 3 minutes researching where I can give feedback to Wired that they should go burn in hell. They are the worst company this side of Mars, and need to immediately re-evaluate their efficacy to the human race.

Summary: if you’re going to request ad dollars with a cute-sy ad-block -detecting script, make sure it’s a single simple button heart-torn users can easily push; otherwise, you’ve only created an enemy for life.

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I face the future. Like shaking off the cobwebs, I re-evaluate this meta-journey I find myself progressing along, and I choose to side-step and jump up.

I write this post after somewhat of a hiatus. What the next several months shall bring, I cannot definitively say, but there are some things I suspect, and some things I know. With perfect ambiguity as to which is which:

1) I want to continue practicing, and getting better at, writing. Here! We! Go!
2) Sometimes I’m a realist, sometime I’m an idealist. The realist in me fears I am like Toby. If you haven’t seen that scene, the transcript doesn’t do it justice. The idealist in me wants to squeeze the lime juice out of life, to slap on a grin as I taste that sour-sweet nectar, and to BELLOW for more!
3) I’m writing this before any concrete plans are made. But there’s a part of me that is scheming great things for this coming year.
4) Reading about others’ great things, I’m reminded that it’s not all roses on the path to appreciating life to the fullest. That there are moments where you wonder WHAT the FUCK!?, where you want to cry uncle, and wish you’d chosen to pursue an easier journey. In perfect clarity and prescience of mind, I choose to turn from that easier path, and am saying ‘yes’ on the day when confronted with The Question.
5) There are many things I want to learn, and many things I know I need to learn. The last several months, I’ve feared I am gravitating toward this ambiguous goal without purpose, like last time, except even moreso. But tonight… I feel I have found clarity of purpose. I know what I want, I can foresee the future, and I can make it so. I am excited.

Not done yet,

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Since so many people ask, perhaps one of my biggest take-aways from the whole experience is this lesson: the world is filled with inherantly good people that are willing to help out a stranger or a friend. That’s an incredible thing. It’s contrary to a lot of what I thought I knew. But it was my experience on the trail. The fact is, this thru-hike of the A.T. would not have happened, much less been completed, without an incredible amount of help in various ways from an incredible multitude of sources. To properly recognize all of them, is not only beyond my ability at this point, but nobody would want to read that encyclopedia. Also it’d probably break the Internet with data overload. So if I missed you, no slight is intended. Here are but a few folks, to whom I am completely grateful and forever thankful, in no particular order. Thanks go out to:

  • Mom and Dad, for all of their incredible support, mentally and mailing-supplies -wise. Without their existence and help, this hike literally would not have been possible.
  • My sister Allison, who always gives me encouragement every time I talk to her.
  • My girlfriend Liesl, for everything.
  • Jimmy, for hooking me up with an amazing jacket and being a friend who simply gets me, through all these years.
  • Jacob, Ben, Alex, Alex, Zach, Abby, Baltz, Stu, Josh, Nick, Krasina, and the rest of the crew back at Arcadia Solutions. You guys constantly occupied my thoughts on this trail, and without your well wishes, amazing send-off, encouragement, and support, I would not have gotten out of North Carolina / Tennessee. Special shout-outs go to Baltz, Stu, and Josh, for they were the folks with whom I walked my very first mile of the trail (Katahdin) back almost a year ago; it was this that first got me thinking about doing the whole thing. And to see Ben, Olga, and John as they picked me up at the end of it, climbing Katahdin with me once more, was a special and wonderful moment. Thank you guys.
  • Barb and Bill M, who put me up in their lovely house in Vermont for a night, with a shower, laundry, and an incredible, incredible gourmet vege meal.
  • Terra, Jim, Mica, and Suki Rowe, for the fantastic few days at their lovely home in NY state.
  • Big thanks to the U.S. government who, in their infinite wisdom, provide massive subsidies to corn growers, allowing me to buy copious quantities of hiker-friendly high-fat high-sugar junk food at fantastically cheap prices.
  • Patricia at Cascade Designs in Seattle. This is truly an awesome company that stands behind their gear, and goes the extra mile to help out hikers: kudos to them, and I WILL be buying from them again.
  • Vibram, for the free pair of shoes. They were good while they lasted, and despite the broken toes, I am glad I started my hike in them. I think they played a big role in my lack of foot problems during the later part of the trail.
  • Arcteryx, Patagonia, MSR, and Marmot for making some of my favorite and most valued pieces of gear. Marmot gets a special shout-out for having good customer relations.
  • NPR and the producers and other folks associated with the shows This American Life, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me…, The Moth, Science Friday, Prairie Home Companion, Fresh Air, Marketplace, The Truth, and most of all TBTL. Tens, probably hundreds of enjoyable hours and thought-provoking insight was provided via their collective podcasts, and I appreciated all of it.
  • The great people I met on the trail, who I would endeavor to call friends. Sketch, Rat Bucket, Chia Pet, The Dude, Red Man, Big Dumb Animal, Jonas, Block Head, Switchback, Stinger, Motown, Whitewater, Four Star, Easy, Teton… here’s looking at all of you, kids, and countless more besides.
  • All of the hundreds of people that provide trail magic along the trail, from potable water to hitches into towns. I started to list people out for particularly memorable instances, and just stopped when I realized I could fill pages mentioning all of the times someone went above and beyond and beyond again. You are truly deserving of the title “trail angels”; without you, this trail would be possible, but a whole helluva lot less enjoyable.
  • The ATC, and all of its volunteers who make the trail possible (ridge runners, trail maintainers, etc.). Without you, this trail wouldn’t even exist, and I wouldn’t have had anything to thru-hike in the first place.
  • The SAR teams who are occasionally called into action when people go missing on the trail. It’s not a paid job, it’s all volunteer, and as one who avoided needing your services, but know you would have been there for me had something gone wrong, I appreciate it.

Yes, in some sort of technical sense it was a solo thru-hike. But I am not a rock; I did not do it all alone. To everyone that was a part of it, and helped me along the journey: thank you.

Saturday, August 11th: It was really cold, rainy, and blowing up on the summit when I made it there (as perhaps one can deduce, if one is truly gifted with supreme detective skills, looking at the below picture). All I wanted was to get the picture over with and get outta dodge. So I just walked over, picked the first pose that came to mind, and inwardly cussed at my fellow thru-hiker’s frozen fingers until he snapped the picture. It was too rainy to really try to pull my phone out and review the picture, much less fuss over how crappy it was and ask for another. Thus, I only realized it looks like it could be any random person when I was halfway back down the mountain. Take my word for it, then: it’s me, I was there, and it’s all over now.

Quick update before posting what I wrote a few days ago, least you should read that and think I’m still in a black hole of despair presently. Since… well, a few days ago… things are definitely looking up. I’ve got about 1.5 days more of “tough” hiking, after which I get on what looks like a flat highway by the terrain profile, for the remaining 180 miles of trail. My legs have built themselves up to rival those metal struts holding up the golden gate bridge, in terms of strength and size. And the weather has been… well it has been “meh”: not horrible, not great. I’ll take it. Most importantly, I’m back on my original schedule, looking like I should be able to summit Katahdin on August 11th as planned. I write this from Stratton, ME, one of the very last bastions of civilization on the trail before… the end.

7/26/2012
It’s been brutal out here. A lot of people have said a lot of things about different parts of the trail… but those folks who were saying that the beginning of Maine is the toughest part of it, have been the most correct in my opinion. I set a schedule for myself and my last few weeks of hiking near the beginning of the Whites, when I had to figure out where I’d be when, so that I could buy a plane ticket home for a particular date. Either I was distracted when I was designing this schedule from the comfort of some couch in some trail town hostel, or maybe I was high as a kite without knowing it, but one way or another, it got down into writing that I was going to be hiking 17 or 18 mile days through this section of trail. What a less-than-hilarious joke that has turned out to be.

One reason for my lack of blog updates in so long is that I am literally too tired to move at the end of the last few days. I do not have the energy to roll over and pull out this iPad and write something. I’ve been hiking until late, after dark in some cases, and yet I still seem to be falling behind my original proposed schedule. But not by much, so it’s ok.

Luckily it hasn’t been raining TOO badly. That is, without doubt, the single most limiting factor to one’s speed on this trail. It feels like there are nearly more miles than not, where one is climbing up or descending down a sheer rock wall, angled at about 50 degrees. When it’s dry, one can usually find the minuscule bits of lichen that act like velcro, or the infinitesimal protrusions that serve as toe holds, to make the ascent/descent without too much slowing down and thinking. But sprinkle these sheer rocks with a little rain, and all bets are off. Add in end-of-day soreness, which, to be perfectly honest, has been far worse here in the beginning of Maine than it has been anywhere else along the trail… and whether one’s foot is going to stick when one throws one’s weight on a rock out there, or whether one’s leg is going to spasm and throw one tumbling down to whatever ground may be found below, becomes a fun betting game.

I’ve definitely had more wipe-outs in this state than in all of the other states combined. There’s a story about a woman who was thru-hiking from Georgia, and whenever asked where she was headed she’d reply, “Maine!”. And the story goes that when she got all the way to Maine, she fell and broke her leg only a few miles after the NH-ME border, never making it to Katahdin. I guess the moral of the story was something like the old “Be careful what you wish for.” But now, reflecting on the story… it only seems all too likely. Hearing it down south, it seems like some kind of unfortunate, freak accident or fable. Hiking the hike, I’m shocked I haven’t heard of hundreds of people breaking their legs around these parts.

On the other hand, to counterbalance all of that… after hiking 1800 miles, one develops insane reflexes that get employed at that micro-instant when one’s foot first begins to slip. I literally would not have enough fingers and toes to count the number of times I’ve almost coupled face and ground, hard, but my body’s muscles do their own thing without any input from my brain, and the end result is more-often-than-not a graceful save of several joints and bones. It’s actually stopped being awe-striking to me in most cases, how many times my hike has almost been permanently ended, but I’m not alone on this: other thru-hikers have mentioned the same thing. With or without poles, you become one with your body, your weight, your pack’s weight, and how it all shifts and moves as you do, and as the ground does, and what precise applications of force are needed to keep upright.

Which brings me to this: it’s finally the season to be seeing a lot of SoBo thru-hikers, and I can’t help but think, DANG, that’d be hard. Clearly many are going to finish, but… were it me, after going through this section of Maine that I’ve just gone through (specifically, Mahoosuc Arm and Notch), I’d be finding the nearest road to get the heck off the trail forever more. Knowing that I’ve done 1900 miles already, with only a few hundred left, is one of the few uplifting factors I can rely on to keep me going. For those  sad SoBos, without that… it seems like it’d be bloody tough, the way I figure it. But power to them, I wish them all luck, and hope they all succeed.

Even though they won’t. Many won’t. I’m struggling with how to write this without coming off sounding like a raging sexist, but it’s a truly curious fact about the trail (to me, anyway) that I keep trying to figure out, so I want to share it in case others out there have their own theories/thoughts. There are more guys that successfully thru-hike the trail than women. But. It feels like nearly equal numbers of each sex start the trail. I recall seeing SO many women down in Georgia. And once again, now as I near the end of the trail here in Maine, it is strange to see almost equal parts men and women on the trail. But in that middle section, and as the numbers will bear out, it’s a completely imbalanced ratio of men to women on the trail. There’s a guy who owns a house near the beginning of New Hampshire, known as the Ice Cream Man because he hands out free ice cream to hikers passing by, who keeps a register and has some pretty solid statistics for the last few years of people on the trail. By his numbers, of thru-hikers, it’s about 20% women, 80% men. So… why? I don’t mean to disparage women here, but I think all thru-hikers will back me up on these being the simple facts. And people have asked me before, when it comes up, why that is – why there is such an imbalance, and why so many more women seem to start and not finish than men. I don’t have any good answers to these questions. Some theories are: A) it’s a simple body-type / muscle thing. Men evolved to have bigger muscles which gives them an advantage in… endeavors which require big muscles? Counterpoint: I’ve got pretty crappy/weak muscles, as do many of the dudes doing this trail, and so it’s hard to see how strength plays into it. Also, of female thru-hikers, it’s not like they’re at the back of the pack; they seem just as tough in all senses as any of the guys out here. B) Women are smarter than men. Well no duh. But by this I mean, honestly, knowing what I now know, there’s no way I’d ever do this trail as a thru-hike, and would never recommend to anyone else that they do it either. If I were smarter I would have figured this out and quit a long time ago, and so I think it takes a certain amount of thick-headedness to finish in one go. Perhaps a similar kind of thick-headedness as that which stereotypically prevents guys from asking for directions? C) Could be related to any one of the other myriad differences between the sexes. Women are more social than men, and though there is great trail commoraderie, thru-hiking is an inherently anti-social activity (dubious claim, but I’m making it)? Peeing in the woods is easier for guys than gals? It’s statistically safer for a guy to go wandering in the woods for 6 months than for a lady?

Honestly, I don’t know. And I hope it doesn’t make me sound like a chauvenistic a-hole for observing the facts and wondering. Or maybe it does, and maybe I am, I dunno. Regardless, power to those ladies who take on this challenge and succeed, for if it’s rare by-the-numbers for a guy to complete the journey… it is clearly far rarer for women.