Tag Archives: Appalachian trail

It’s midnight, turn the page.

Will I make it to Georgia? I don’t know. Will you live to be 100? The chances are similar and the ability to predict the answer is equally impossible. I am in New York right now, or at least close, and I like it here. It is a beautiful state and I am enjoying it.

Sure Connecticut has its ups and downs, literally. But none of the ups are too high and none of the downs are too low.

The leaves are in full change, the world is in full change, and my life and my attitude are both following close behind.

Will I get to Georgia? I don’t care.

A man approached me, discovered I was a thru-hiker and told me “Man, you may not live long, but you are living hard, and you are doing it right.”

He was over sixty, breaking down, and realizing that he had never been on an adventure. Essentially his life had never been an adventure. It was plain.

So I may mess up. I may find sometimes the lows are too low and the highs get me a court date of April 10, 2009.

Clear skies, Connecticut countryside, my two feet, and everything I need to survive is on my back. No I am not bored. No I am not lonely. And no, I do not envy you. I am content and I am alive.

Goddard Shelter 10/12, 567.7

When I arrived at the shelter, I asked everyone what temperature rating their sleeping bag was. These hikers out for a couple days were unprepared but after hearing ratings of twenty and thirty I figured they would survive at least. We were all about to camp at 3,500 feet in open air. It was in the twenties when we all rolled in to camp and I knew nothing was going to prevent that temperature from dropping into the teens at night.

They all pulled out their trash bags, space blanets, four pairs of socks, whatever they had to insulate them. A couple went so far as to even leave their unlaced boots on in their sleeping bag and put their feet in their packs.

And sure enough, they all were miserable and they all struggled to sleep. And sure enough, we all awoke to clashing of sleet hitting the tin roof around midnight. And the next morning we all had mixed feelings about the beautiful couple inches of snow on the ground.


I guess I should have expected this. Winter thru-hike plausible? Maybe. Winter thru-hike sensible? Probably not.


I woke up this morning at 4:00 am to bag my dehydrated strawberries. But when I woke up this morning I felt a confidence that I felt was misplaced. I felt prepared and ready even though my legs are tired and I have a triathlon this weekend. I felt comfortable although two days ago I was broken down to laying beside my mom getting my back rubbed. And in addition to that, I thought, I am about to commit to an incredible adventure that surpasses anything I have ever done and I have no idea what I am doing.

I feel that my lack of knowledge is helping me though. I am learning how to thru-hike the Appalachian trail with no previous customs or stubborn habits. I am open to anything, a tabla  rasa. Each time I go to Blue Ridge Mountain Sports I make an effort to talk to someone different than before. And I quickly realized that everyone has their own preferences and quirks. But rather than being a hard headed omniscient hiker, I am inexperienced and open to anything. I am open to hiking with only a tarp, or hiking with a four season shelter. I don’t know whether I should take a poncho or a rain jacket, sleeping bag or a quilt. Are trekking poles, gloves, glasses, or a book necessary? People are dying to lecture me on their thought and pull me into their rythm but so far I have just listened and not invested.

I guess my new found confidence is due to the feeling that I am on the right path. I have resources, I have the finances, the time, the commitment, and the guts. I have a stack of ten books that I’m working my way though, highlighting and taking quick notes on the inside cover as I go. Today I learned that if I startle a bear in the back country, stand tall, wave my arms slowly, and talk to him in a “calm but firm voice”. Oh yeah and my mom was delighted to hear that if attacked I should lay down, hands over my head, and legs spread wide to prevent the bear from rolling me over. I am supposed to protect my vital organs while he gnaws and claws at me. That’s pleasant.

I am having fun with all this learning too. Hopefully before I set out, I’ll be confident to try natural back country foods, or make my own brace for a broken arm, how to camp comfortably in the winter, and how to survive anything the wild world can throw at me. I’ll be a wilderness know-it-all without any experience. The experience and wisdom will come steadily and safely as long as the first week is not too difficult.

My food dehydrator has not been turned off in 72 hours. My mom is worried it is getting tired.

When I headed into the I love the tavern triathlon, I had no confidence in my abilities. Today I am ready to race, despite overwhelming physical fatigue. I am exicted to race and see everyone and hang out. Third place at 3sports tri is my goal. I have the confidence and desire to carry it through, and that combination in an athlete is unbeatable.

Trail name

My name is Grayson. I like my name. Do I go by Grayson? Of course. I have always gone by Grayson and have never had a nickname.

But on my hike I need a new name. I need what thru-hikers call a “trail name”. I have never thought of myself having a different name. The only other name I respond to is Andrew or Andy when someone mistakes me for my brother. I have also been known to reply to any of my family members’ and sometimes dogs’ names when my mom is too angry to think straight. But another name solely to define me?

I am stumped. I like the name my mama gave me. Not many people have a name that starts with “G”. I like that letter. It’s humbly placed a few letters in the alphabet so as not to seem cocky, but it is close enough to the front to display confidence. Additionally, the name grace is just absolutely beautiful…and my name contains that sound. However, contrary to popular belief, I am not the son of Gray, it is just a name.

There is a book called Grayson. It is about the son of a gray whale. I own it (of course) and its my favorite book (of course) and should be yours too.

Upon further inspection, my name does have a low side. Take the first four letters, g-r-a-y. Most people have heard that word before. Some of its synonyms are old, hoary, aged, ancient, dreary, and to top of the optimism, depressing. Huh, well the color isn’t to shiny either.

Grayson is not a stern name like Fred, John, or Chad. It has a sensitive side to it. I like that. So if you would like to suggest a trail name, feel free to leave a comment on this post.

The trailhead awaits me

Chris McCandless showed the world a way of embracing life that most of us did not understand. On his journeys he  helped people love and feel and live the way humans were meant to. So many things blind us from those three fundamental elements but Chris taught the world to open our eyes. But Chris taught without preaching. He enlightened us by doing it himself. And although he made some mistakes, his goal was righteous and the following is true.

Chris lived for 24 years. That is more than most people can say at their deaths even after eighty years of so-called living. We fall into a pattern and although that routine and schedule might lead us from our dream, we keep following it because its easy.

My senior year of high school I declared that I was going to take a year away from a classroom. I was going to break that routine and follow my overwhelming deep desire. But all my friends were going to college. Everyone was following that path and while watching the ease of their way, I was reeled into the routine again. Birth, day care, elementary school, middle school, high school, college, job, retirement, death. That routine was so easy and so enticing for me.

Many of my teachers thought that I had cracked my senior year. I had become utterly sick of school and I was ready to do something different. People who thought they knew me said that it was just senioritis. People who knew me knew it was much different. My idea of life was adventure and unexpected, exciting challenges and struggle, not routine. People who thought they knew me said I should go to college for a year and then decide. Maybe I would like college.

So I thought, maybe I would like college. Turns out I don’t and didn’t, but understand the necessity of such an evil. I thought, what’s another year? But that extra year in school pushed me over the edge.

I will set out on my great adventure to on August 22. Instead of Alaska, I will struggle alongside nature in Maine. Chris died because of a technical mistake, not because his ideals were whack. I hope to not make any technical mistakes, but life has a way of making even the most detailed plans and preparation near worthless.

Only a handful of people have hiked the entire 2,178 trail from the North to the South. Much, much less have hiked the trail in the winter. I prepare myself with reading, experimenting, and conversing with more knowledgeable hikers, but nothing can prepare me physically, mentally, and emotionally for the struggle I am about to endure.

On August 22nd, 2009 I will began my attempt at a southbound winter thru-hike of the Appalachian trail.

The dream was only a reminder

I once read the essay “On Dreams” by Sigmund Freud. In the concise version of his more lengthy essay he interprets dreams and establishes his belief that dreams are not disordered or accidental. He claims that some dreams are essentially the subconscious reaching out to the conscious.

Last night I had a dream that feels very meaningful to me.

As far as my memory of the dream reaches I felt fearful and nervous. Very quickly the root to my fear became apparent. I was driving on a four lane interstate with a tail. Several huge vehicles were coming up fast and I knew they were after me. I looked back in my rear view mirror as the lights from the oncoming truck came close enough to blind me.

I swerved onto an exit ramp to avoid being run over by the villain of my dream.I was not aware of the reason I was being chased but I definitely knew to run.

The exit ramp was my escape to an access road that ran parallel to the highway. I drove along at ninety miles an hour alongside the villain chasing me. Now I had a vantage of the massive group coming after me. All the vehicles were bulky, threatening, huge trucks. Some looked like army vehicles, others were dump trucks, and the lead was a tractor trailer.

I watched as the caravan swerved through traffic trying to keep up with me, ramming unsuspecting cars in the process. Soon I took a turn off the access road onto a gravel road. From there I saw the start of a trail. I ditched my car, set out on the trail, and my anxiety dissipated. Helicopters flew above looking for me, but I was concealed on the forest floor. I had a pristine view for miles, with the sun rising in the distance. The evergreen trees covered my head and I had no fear of being caught. I was free.

Whether this dream is silly or truly metaphorical, I don’t know. I do suspect that it’s a sign that right now I am discontent.

I went to Manhattan last year for the first time in my life. I had never seen such an urban setting with so much asphalt and concrete and so little trees and grass. However, in addition to central park, there were many more smaller parks scattered over the city. Each time I passed a park on my walking tour of the city I noticed the congestion of people in the park. People fueled off whatever green they could surround themselves with and the main hang outs and gathering spots were parks. With this observation, in addition to realizing my dislike for the brown, gray, and off white beneath my feet, I was so amazed and excited to see how so many people were attracted to whatever green they could find. It was almost like I expected to find people huddling around bits af grass growing in sidewalk cracks. And the bitter sweet observation helped enlighten me to  every one’s desire for some natural element of the world in their life.

Some people hate camping or are grossed out by dirt and mud. Some are scared of snakes and spiders. Some use umbrellas in rain and pump the heat up to 80 degrees in the winter. I run inside to the protection of my house’s walls when I get swarmed by mosquitoes. And the movie “Birds” definitely did not help my fear of hawks, eagles, and owls. But I do believe that deprived of the softness of dirt beneath our feet, the freedom of fields, and the warmth of the color green, we all get a little thirsty no matter how urban and new age we think we are.

I see dirt and grass and trees that chose their own location every day. But still the hardness of concrete that surrounds me drives me to an even great desire for the kingdom plantae. I want freedom and soon I will have it. My subconcious doesn’t need to tell me that in a dream. I already knew it.

The sacrifice for the sport


It looks like I have a place on the Duathlon age group World Championship team if I want to accept. The problem with that though is I would be setting out on the trail yet another month later. That would run my expedition into one of the coldest months of the year. I probably have to decide by tomorrow.

This is becoming the hardest part to racing. First off I have to plan out a season that is up to eight months long and secondly I have to work my life around that. Whatever gets in the way typically gets booted. I know I have potential but I have potential to go insane if I keep this up. So, I want to hike the trail, but I could do really well at worlds. Which do I give up? What I am looking at is what will provide the greatest long term effect. If I skip out on the late season races and hike the AT, will I lose results that could have propelled me to a low level sponsorship? If I skip out on the AT, will I lose interest in the sport and race poorly next year?

I have bags under my eyes from training stress. I want to hike the AT. I can go to the World Championships next year.

Change of plans

Looks like plans have changed.

I may be hiking the Appalachian trail this year rather than next. I may be leaving in early September or late August rather than March. If that is the plan I will hike it North to South. If I set out of August 27th, the earliest I can leave, I will hike attempt to hike the 2000 mile stretch before the new year.  Another option is to hike as far as I can until it is absolutely miserable, then section hike the rest.

The reason I would do this is to not miss next year’s triathlon and cycling seasons. I am swimming, biking, and running faster than ever before and I may not want to miss next year’s season.

A few setbacks are keeping me between the two options. The first is the cold. It is going to be absolutely freezing by the end of my journey. And not only will that makes days of the trip miserable, but it will require me to wear pounds more of gear.

Secondly I would be missing Duathlon World Championships in North Carolina this year. I would also miss the late season triathlons. Also, I would most likely not hit my goal finish date and I will probably spend Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s day without a human companion.

I would also not have any company on the trail. Most thru hikers would be finishing up in Maine when I am setting off from their destination. I would pass them going the opposite direction on the trail. I would spend most nights alone in shelters or even if I was with a companion, I would most likely say goodbye in the morning rather than having a hiking partner. Much of my trip would be spent with no sight of another human.

I have absolutely no idea how I will react to such solitude and harsh conditions. I have no idea what to expect to get from this adventure and I have no idea if my body and mind will hold up to the stress but it’s worth the test. We’ll see.

Living in transition

This week is a taper week. Its killing me. I’m supposed to take it easy for every workout. I just want to get out on my mountain bike and hammer it hard. I even dream of hammering, ripping my legs to shreds. I love the feeling of getting home after a hard ride or run and sitting down on the carpet with a recovery drinks that tastes like a mix of my own fecal matter (and looks it to) and stretching my sore legs out.

On Sunday is Power sprint triathlon in Richmond. This will be my third time racing it. Both times I finished third overall. I hope for something more this year, but with the athletes on my team having outdone me earlier in the season, that goal may be difficult. I have started off slow this season and I hope this will be my break through race. Rocketts turned out to not be that race so maybe this one will.

It is my birthday on Saturday but my mom and I decided to shift it to Sunday so that I will be able to eat cake. My new backpack for hiking the Appalachian trail will come in soon and so will my new Kazane road bike frame.

The day of Powersprint there is also a cycling race in Richmond. I may attempt to race the afternoon race after my triathlon. If I do not do well in the tri I may want to race again to redeem myself. Graeme Obree set the World one hour record on sore legs the day after his first attempt. Maybe I could do that on a lesser scale.

The next chapter

This coming August I will not be returning to Virginia Tech. I will be taking my first year in fourteen years away from classrooms. My intentions are to live life I have wanted to for the past few years.

In hindsight I appreciate the punishment of being sent to my room. I appreciate it for much more than the basic punishment. I appreciate it for learning that no man should be trapped inside four walls. I learned recently that walls were not meant to trap me. I want to be free. I want to be in the open, away from enclosures.

I will be setting out to attempt a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in either late February or early March of next year. For somewhere between four and five months I will be without any human companion. I hope to learn more in the woods than I would encased within walls.

Between now and then I have a full agenda. This summer I will be racing for Kazane Racing cycling team. Additionally i will train with Endorphin Fitness junior triathlon team in the mornings every weekday.

My season started off slow with a 16th place finish at Smithfield triathlon. And then I placed fourth at Junior duathlon nationals. I missed qualifying for worlds. However, training has been going exponentially better recently. I feel at the Rockett’s landing triathlon this coming weekend I have an opportunity to redeem myself. We’ll see how it goes. With 5000 dollars in prize money I dream of a taste. Mind you the dream may be horribly unrealistic. We’ll see.

Hopefully I will begin the winter with an extended trip in Honduras. I would like to work with an organization that helps street children get back to normal lives after being left to fend for themselves.

For now, I have till Wednesday in this dorm room. Study for my chemistry final, say goodbye to my friends who are leaving early, and then move out of a place I have called my home for the past nine months.