Category Archives: 2009


There’s something about it, yeah, carrying everything on your back.


A deer walks up to a stream, fawn shortly behind, tips its head down and sips from the spring. The water is clean and refreshing.

We watch animals and admire and crave the self-sufficiency that they consider normal. And while we wish we could run into the woods naked and survive, that is not possible. Humans evolved to have brains to help them adapt to almost any environment, making us the most versatile thing on earth. We can bundle up or strip down, build shelter, build boats, build flaming warmth. We raise livestock and cultivate land to farm.

But can we mimic animals even just for a few days? Only by backpacking can we do this.

And why do we want to mimic animals, the beast, the untame?

There’s just something about entering woods and existing safely and happily. There’s something about sipping from a stream and eating roots and berries. But truthfully, I don’t know. I don’t know why we the wild is so alluring.

I said it today. I am going to get to Georgia. It is taking me forever, I know. But it is hard and I want to get there. I want to stand on Springer mountain and I want to complete a thru-hike. I want to be one of the few that saw the snow as a gift, not an undefeatable obstacle.

I keep saying, “At some point I have to realize the absurdity of a winter thru-hike.” But so far I have said, “This is absurd,” at least a dozen times.

And yet I keep walking. Maybe its the fact that I have walked too far to go home. Maybe I have unfinished business, goals yet to be accomplished, maturity yet to be reached. I doubt Georgia holds some great knowledge and wisdom, but maybe the time in between here and then does hold such truth.

So I am going to go walk in the woods now.

I think I’m getting antsy

I don’t like this world. I don’t like being surrounded by walls and breathing trapped air. I wonder if I’ll ever feel comfortable in this again.

Out on the trail I don’t get lonely or bored, but here I am a jittery mess. I want to run but I hate the race.

How can I possibly not find something to watch on t.v. with 500 channels? We have freaking on demand for god’s sake. Free movies section? There’s a reason they are free. Sitcoms? Infomercials? News-Tiger Woods, balloon boy?

I have said it before. My next adventure will be a trip to an uninhabited island in Fiji. I am going to Fiji just like Truman but I do not feel like I am living in The Truman Show. Are all of you actors? Did I have a camera crew following me my entire trip thus far? No. Paranoia.

I wonder though, why was I programmed this way? I wish I could just settle, and be content. I wish I could be satisfied with being unsatisfied, like most of you, content with being discontent, happy with being miserable. Maybe the taste of freedom, the taste of sheer joy, of peace, and my viewing of a world not at war has tainted me. I have seen bears that don’t want to eat me and met people who buy me meals. I have stood on top of mountains, towering over the plains singing “I’m on top of the world looking down on creation and the only explanation I can find.” I had gone for ten days without touching another human being, without seeing a building or even artificial light, carrying my world on my back. I had gone twenty days without showering, without sleeping in a bed. And you know what? I loved it.

But I am done with wishing I were different. Growing up I would think one day, I want to be the class clown, one day the peace-giver, the intellectual, the Thoreau, the Buddha, the Malcolm-X, the pacifist, the rebel. Maybe the Southern prep, maybe the professional triathlete, maybe the business man, the “comfortable” man.

But I know who I am. I am the guy that cannot live one life, discontent with a 100 year limit. And I am the guy that asks endless questions and will never fully understand.

I think about girls a lot, yeah? I met a wise man, an elementary school teacher, out for a couple days of backpacking with his son. He said to me “If you keep doing what you love to do and don’t change for anyone else, you’ll meet the perfect girl.” I wonder if there is a girl who wants to ride in the cockpit of a double kayak as we explore the Gulf coastline? Or maybe a girl who would like to explore an uninhabited island in Fiji.

I want to be free again. I don’t want to be caught in all the drama of artificial life. Thats what it is you know. We make up things to be upset about because thats how we are programmed. Rather in the woods, we don’t need to make things up. There are already hundreds of reasons to be upset- so many that we choose to give up being upset, and just be happy. I guess there was a time when people knew everyone was so friendly and nice. But at some point we became bored and decided the dialogue “Did you see that look he gave me?”, “Could you believe she said that?” was more exciting. We made up racist names. We decided to categorize people and stereotype them. We turned on our own human race, our allies, our best friends. I guess t.v. got boring. But in the woods, there is no spilt milk because there’s no damn milk. Now doesn’t that simplify things? People are nice. People are sweet (not the surfer terminoligy, moreso the way my mom uses the word). So find a hobby and I don’t want to hear about how rude she was to you ever again.

Winter Camping: Searching for limits and the limit was found

A few have said I look like Chris McCandless, Alexander Supertramp. My trip almost ended like his. That is nothing to be proud of. A few have said, “what a character building experience”. Perseverance, determination build character.

I never, ever want to go through what I went through Thursday night in Shenandoah National Park.

I lay in my sleeping bag for almost eighteen hours, violently shivering, interrupted by efforts to evacuate to a road.

Showing up at camp after dark did not help. It sure was not the first of my mistakes that led to my suffering that night.

The layers went on as my body cooled off after a racing hike to get to camp. But it was not enough. My matted fleece gave me little warmth and my exhausted body pumped out little heat. After hours, and hundreds of push ups, finally I gave in to the emergency blanket. I had promised myself that if I were unprepared enough to need to use this then I may not be prepared for what the next night may have to offer. This was a commitment to leave the woods the next day.

The wind infiltrated every layer and the bitter cold, dry air circulating in my lungs, sucked every spare degree of warmth I had. It was down to surviving the night. Park rangers would have looked for desperate hikers along Skyline drive earlier in the night but it was too late. And as I would later learn, I was the only visitor in the park.

Earlier they intercepted my friend Nat and me, declaring the weather was too bad for us to continue. They put their foot down for him and drove him back to his car. But how can I abandon my thru-hike before I find my limit? How could I have just gone home?

So I gave it a shot. I gave it my best effort, 110%. All that glorious bull that sounds good on a sports field and in a classroom. But out here, winter camping alone on the Appalachian Trail, it is natural selection. There is no insurance. If I screw up, I clean up the mess. If I lose out here, I die.

I’m the last of a group of five that hiked together three states back and I’m the only one that is wondering about seeing another sunrise. My toes and fingertips are stiff and I hesitate to press them to an artery and lose my core body heat. I’ll take the potential frostbite to ensure I see tomorrow.

I took a trip to the privy in the early pre-dawn hours, not for the typical reason. The privy is four sided, unlike the three-sided lean-tos, and the decomposing waste gives off a significant amount of heat. And likely because of this decision, I made it till morning and watched the light pierce through the cracked walls of the outhouse.

I tried to run down the mountain and get water out of the spring, carrying the heat and odor of human waste along with me. My near frozen hands could not keep me from spilling water all over my gloves. I shook my hands off quickly, looked down and my gloves were already frozen, just a few seconds later. I know I did something right to have made it through the night at this point.

It was back to the sleeping bag, core heat stable, but the temperature was testing my fingers. When finally I managed to get feeling back, I reached out of my sleeping bag, turned my phone on to call for help.

Battery too low for radio use.

Damn it.

It was back to my ice-covered sleeping bag to rethink the situation. I thought, its Friday, there will be people on the road. But the last thing I want is to get out to the road, find I am waiting so long that I need to build a fire.

I looked down at a stack of living and wet wood in the corner of the shelter. I gathered all of my trash, bundled it up, and tried to get a fire started as I ran around in circles, did jumping jacks, everything I could to stay warm. The wood caught. I bent over and blew. I ran to the pile and gathered some more of the wet wood. I stacked and stacked to dry the wood as the fire built and soon I had a warm blaze.

But it was time to get out of there, get off this trail. I stripped my mylar bivy sack from the top of my sleeping bag to find huge amounts of frozen condensation. I shook out the bivy sack and mounds and mounds of this “snow” came out.

With extra pack space due to wearing every single article of clothing in my pack, I easily packed my empty pack, threw snow on the fire, and quickly hiked toward Skyline Drive. I reached the road and began looking around for small wood.

My plan was to wait as long as necessary, stop any car that came by, ranger or tourist. They would understand after I explained. But as I began preparations for a long wait, a maintenance worker drove up.

“Too cold, huh?”

He knew exactly why I was out on the road with my thumb held high and drove me to the ranger station and dropped the “desperate hiker” off in the warmth of their building and companionship.

I’m home now, warm, but I cannot sleep. I had not slept that entire night and with the heat and comfort of a bed surrounded by four walls, I still cannot sleep.

My limit was found last night. But my trip is not done. I am back to enhance my preparation and gear. I am rereading my book on winter camping and searching for the warmest gear I can find. I am not going to mess this up again. I am fine with letting Georgia wait two more weeks to ensure that I will see Georgia.

But Georgia still remains ‘always on my mind’.

Alec Kennedy Shelter 1070.6, 11/25

Today I passed through a cute town, Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania.

An older man walked up to me, exchanging my maps for new ones at the post office. He said to me “I envy you. I respect what you are doing. And I wish I could be out there too.” He has passed the point in his life where he is free to safely roam and explore. Its a strange thought imagining that at some point in my life, I will find that some things that seemed normal will no longer be possible. I can’t imagine; I’m still on the uphill.

My two friends Cheesemeyer and Twisted Hair left the trail for Thanksgiving and my plan of double ramen noodles seems to be a respectable meal for tomorrow night.

I met a lady named Mossy who finished her thru-hike on October 15, this year. She has only been home for little over a month so it was great to talk to someone who has experienced everything I have been through. She lives just outside of Boiling Springs. We knew many of the same people, some of which I had to break the news to her had gone home.

When we were heading our separate ways, she turned around and said “Oh yeah and Happy Thanksgiving.”

I am in the shelter with a man far from as sweet as Mossy. He is also a thru hiker finishing his trip two days from now. A veteran just released, he served a few years in Iraq.

“Were you in the action?”

“Yeah, it was awesome,” he responded confidently.

That is enough to make any stranger wonder.

Darlington Shelter 1052.4, 11/24

I met up with Cheesemayer and Twisted Hair again today. Last time I saw them was in New Jersey. We hiked out from Duncannon in the rain.

I went to the diner late this morning and saw packs sitting outside. I walked in to see my friends making progress on plates of pancakes and french toast.

I ordered some french toast and we all patiently ate, waiting for the rain to dissipate as the afternoon came. Before we knew it, the afternoon came.

“You guys want to get lunch?”

“Hey, how convenient!”

We ended up walking back to the Doyle’s restaurant instead of eating at the diner. I admitted to Vicky, the owner of the Doyle, that I had not made it very far from when I left earlier that day. After lunch though, we did muster the inspiration to walk the twelve miles to the shelter, now in the rain and the dark.

Duncannon, Pennsylvania 1041.0, 11/23

I am staying at an old Budweiser hotel, The Doyle Hotel.

I was washing my clothes upstairs in the fourth floor bathroom. I walked up only in my long underwear (everything else needed washing). A very large, long haired man was filling a pot with hot water. A hiker? Definitely not.

“Can I just grab my laundry?”

“Ehh, yaeh ugh mine jus fil ma pot. Yuuggghhhh. Yuggghh. Yeugghhh. Jus fil’n ma pot.”

I took that as a yes.

The owners Pat and Vicky bought the restaurant, bar, and hotel from hiker hating previous owners. Pat and Vicky are just about the exact opposite, suiting their hotel to primarily hiker needs. They maintain an online register of hikers coming through-

Peter’s Mountain Shelter 1029.7, 11/22

Never, ever underestimate 270 rock steps. I felt like I was climbing one of those mystical Buddhist palaces up on top of a rocky mountain in the middle of nowhere. Two-hundred and seventy steps. Mind you they are not regulation step height. No, you would not have any confusion about whether to take double steps or single- no matter how tall you are.

I’ve got water now and that’s a good feeling. But my half mile detour down into the valley definitely was not the ideal way to acquire this necessity.

I took a nap today. I walked six miles from the shelter, felt overwhelmed with exhaustion as if doped, laid out my sleeping pad, jumped into my sleeping bag, and slept for four hours.

Coyotes are flipping out there. I have no idea how many but it sounds like enough to rip me up. I hope they cannot climb ladders and thankfully this shelter has a loft.

Rausch Gap Shelter 11/21, 1012.2

I walked up to the shelter dragging enough wood for a small cook fire. It seems the two guys already at the shelter had a different idea. They had already begun burning entire trees.

The two guys were brothers from an hour away.

“You’ll like my daughter,” Allen says to me. Well, well, well. I only met him thirty minutes ago.

His daughter and son came in a few minutes later. His son unpacks his stuff looks to me and says, “Hiker, you want a carrot?”

Before I could respond an entire carrot fresh picked from his garden this morning, still caked in dirt, was in the air coming at me. This night is going to be good.

Allen had brought entirely too much food, cooking spaghetti, preparing a fresh salad, boiling carrots, toasting a baguette.

Great food, blazing fire, cute girl, family with a sense of humor. And you thought I was going to be roughing it.

501 Shelter 11/20, 994.8

I woke up from a horrible nightmare of insane small town locals kidnapping me. It was like being in the middle of a Children of the Corn movie.

At least with the children of the corn nightmare I could wake. These footsteps and whispers all around me at five in the morning, I cannot wake from this. There are people out there. I wish it were I bear. I wish it were coyotes.

I lay in my sleeping bag, sweating buckets despite the near freezing temperature around me. What are these whispers? Who are these people? How many are there? Too many to count. Did I sleep to close to the road? Do they know I am in here? Do I get my knife out? Maybe they don’t even know I am here. Maybe there is nothing to be scared of. Do I get my knife out? Do I hide?

I want to fall back asleep! Bring me children of the corn!

Do I call my mom? Should I call out “Who’s there?” Should I pack my stuff up and leave quickly? Should I leave my stuff and run? I don’t want to be here! Try to fall asleep. I can’t sleep! It may not be safe to sleep!

I finally muster the courage to check outside. I peek around a corner of the shelter. A man is walking in the fog. There are other behind me. I quickly turn around and see other shadows near silently lurking in the winter fog. The first man sees me.

“Bill?” he whispers.

Do I respond? Is he safe? Do I run back in the shelter and grab my knife before he realizes his target is awake. “No,” my trembling voice responds.

He walks up to me abruptly with no words exchanged, then looks at me firmly and says “Where are you headed?”

“Georgia,” I say as I stumble back. “Um. What are you doing? I mean, when did you get here?”

“We got here last night around ten. We’re headed north and we’ll be out of here about nine.”

“How many of you are there?” Hearing that they were hikers made me feel safe. The nightmare was over.

“About twenty. We’re a boy scout troop from Pine Grove.”

Today marks the first time in my life I was happy to see boy scouts.

Eagle’s Nest Shelter 11/19, 979.7

They may make the local news. They’ll give the trail some publicity: their frozen bodies found just off the trail, mangled from crawling through the thorn covered vines, their pillow cases full of crap abandoned nearly a mile away.

I came up to them laying on the trail, arms as pillows beneath their heads. They are free and that is all that matters.

“Where you headed?”

“Virginia,” they say enthusiastically.

The big one looks at my pack. “You have enough food to get to Virginia?”

“Oh, god no,” I respond. “It’s going to rain you know.”

“Oh I guess we better get moving again.” They hop up and grab their pillows of what they call ‘gear’.

I can see the headlines. In a couple weeks: Two Pennsylvania Boys run from home have not been seen in three weeks.

In three weeks: Boys found on Appalachian trail, bodies mangled.

Their wet jeans and hoodies won’t do too much to insulate them from the cold. Their excitement won’t save them from the harm their naivety causes them. But we’ll see. I hope they leave the trail before it reaches that point.