Thursday, September 29, 2011

From too much to too little?

This past Sunday morning we were given a lift to Damascus, VA to pick up the Appalachian Trail by a nice couple from Danville, VA.  We arrived there mid-afternoon and set to getting last minute supplies before hitting the trail. 

We ended up hiking about 4.5 miles down the AT (crossing the Virginia/Tennessee border) - halfway through the hike it proceeded to start raining but there was nowhere to set up camp so we were forced to press on until nightfall, when we finally found a place semi-suitable to bed down for the night.  Everything was damp/wet so starting a real fire was it was we were barely able to find enough 'dry' tinder to make dinner in our hobo stove.  I woke up several times that night cold despite temps being in the 50's (40's after factoring in the wind-chill).  So much for the 20 degree rating my Coleman sleeping bag boasts to be!

The next morning we hiked another 5.5 miles before stopping at one of the shelters on the AT, where we set up at one of the camp sites in the vicinity.  We gathered some water from a nearby stream to boil for food - which worked out well.  That night it was a little easier to find tinder for the hobo stove but we were still unable to start a real fire.  Another cold and restless night ensued and it was becoming difficult to keep a positive attitude about the whole experience.

We woke up to more rain and damp gear - thankfully the sun came out just before we started hiking again, which helped a little.  5 miles later we took a detour off the trail into a small town called Shady Valley to re-supply our food and water.  It was a 3.5 mile trek on the road to get there...nothing but a blinking light, small restaurant, and general store that catered to bikers as opposed to hikers.  Most of the local folk did not appear to be friendly to outsiders - thankfully the ladies running the restaurant (Jessica and Logan) were really nice, brewed a mean cup (or three) of coffee, and made the best burgers we've had in a very long time! 

After eating and re-supplying Jessica gave us a ride to another AT trail-head (yes, we took a small short-cut but we DID hike those extra miles into town which I viewed as a good excuse...haha), where we hiked about another mile before finding a site to set up camp.  For the first time since hitting the AT we were finally able to start a fire, relax, and talk without the stress of everything being damp and cold.  Of course I froze my hind-quarters off that night (to the sound of cows mooing in the distance at a Shady Valley farm) - and when we woke up yesterday morning our rainfly lines were pulled out of the ground as if something (most likely a bear) had come through camp and tripped on them.  I didn't hear anything and I'm still in one piece so for that I am thankful.

In sitting and talking, though, we decided that it might be in our best interests to get off the AT and start trying to find a way to get south faster on the road as opposed to the trail.  There were no good views the whole time we were on it, it is cold and forcasted to frost this coming weekend, and I am currently sick with a cold.  So we backtracked the mile hike to the road and started walking.  About 5 miles down we got a ride into Elizabethton, TN (we had another 13 or so miles to go before reaching the town line and probably another 5-10 miles before getting to the part of town where anything was) - where we remain this morning.  We invested in a hotel room so we would have a warm, dry place to I really wanted a bath!

I am sick, sore, tired, and a little worried about how we're going to get to a warmer climate before we freeze to death.  I have faith, however, that things will work out.  Despite all the hell we've been through over the past week and a half a lot of good has happened, too.  We've met a lot of great people and things have fallen into place when we've needed them to.

We are at the point now where we are re-evaluating what we want from this trek - we've gone from too much society to too little.  I think ultimately we have decided that we want to see the country but we don't want to suffer unnecessarily in order to do so.  Sticking to roads as opposed to trails will allow us to be closer to basic necessities like food and water...while also affording us the opportunity to catch a lift here and there between stints of hiking on foot.

Hopefully it will also allow me more opportunities to post to the blog and get better photos of the various landscapes!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Week 1 So Far

It is night 5 and for the first time since beginning this journey I have found both the time and internet connection to be able to post to this blog.

I am exhausted at the moment but given I do not know when I will be able to post again I wanted to jump on here and let everyone know we are doing well so far.  The rain the last few days held us at bay for a little while but it gave us time to sharpen our outdoor living skills in camp as well as pinpoint trouble spots in some of the gear we originally left with.  For instance, today I traded in my cotton tank tops for some 100 percent Polyester tops...cotton and water are not a good combination when you're struggling to keep dry in rainy conditions.  We also invested in some better shoes to help make the trek as pain-free as humanly possible!

We are currently in Danville, VA...we got here partly from hiking (I would say about 25 miles total) and partly from hitching rides with various good-hearted strangers.  I don't have enough time to get into detail here but I am keeping a pretty in-depth written journal that will hopefully be shared in a published book after we finish trekking the perimeter of the country.

Tomorrow we have a ride to the Appalachian Trail (Southwest VA) after which we plan to hike the entire southern portion of the trail down to Springer Mountain in GA.  I am not sure how much (if any) internet connection we will have during that time but will update everyone as often as possible and continue to keep the written journal going.

I will finish by saying that I feel blessed to have met so many wonderful people since we left Virginia Beach this past Tuesday morning - it is good to know that people like them still exist in society today.  I also want to add that while there have already been some rough spots in the journey (aching muscles - particularly my hip - rain that kept us from making any progress for two days and left everything in camp damp - to name a couple) I feel happy, free, and harbor no regrets for the decison to do what we are doing!

Here are some photos taken so far (most taken just outside of Clarksville, VA near Occaneechee State Park, where we camped for 3 nights during the rain - one cool thing about the damp weather was the appearance of various forms of fungi in the campground which, as you'll notice, I saw as a photo opportunity!):

Friday, September 16, 2011


Today I visited my youngest four children for the last time in what will probably be a year, if not longer.  I could have hugged and kissed them forever and never gotten tired of it. 

Of all the things I am looking at facing over the coming months I can think of nothing more difficult that leaving behind my children...I will still be able to call them on a fairly regular basis but nothing compares to being face to face and holding the ones you love.  I know in my heart that they will be well cared for and safe where they are at but it is still a challenge to let go and trust.

My thoughts are with my babies...I am not an incredibly religous person in the typical sense but my prayers and love go out to them, tonight.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Initial Reactions

As the time to leave draws closer we have begun to share our plans with friends, family, and others we come into contact with.  Those close to us have typically responded with an even mix of skepticism and support, while those who don't know us well (or at all) have reacted with disbelief and sometimes questioning of our sanity.  Only a very few have expressed the desire to actually do what we are doing...but because of ties to people and material posessions they feel they cannot walk away.

All generalities aside, I have most been affected by the subtle differences between how people react to Mike undertaking this journey versus how they react to ME undertaking it.  A woman making the decision to trek across the country seems to make a whole lot less sense to people than a man doing so...because of this my reasons for making such a decision have been questioned, as well as my ability to actually follow through and survive the experience.  Most commonly it has been suggested that I am doing this because I know it's something Mike has wanted to do as opposed to doing so of my own free will.

Let me squash that suggestion immediately...while I do know that Mike has wanted to undertake a journey like this for practically his entire life, what is not as well known is that I have had the same desire for most of MY life.  I have been a lot less vocal about it than he has to those we come in contact with but, of course, have privately shared my thoughts with him on the subject numerous times over the past two years that we've known each other.

My first inclination was dare anyone question my intentions or my strength.  My second (after a cool-down period) was understanding...this society is still bred to view women as physically and emotionally weaker than men, regardless of numerous attempts to change it.  The fact is women ARE physically and emotionally different than men...and that's the key word...DIFFERENT.  It doesn't mean we aren't capable of facing and handling difficult challenges to our bodies and minds, we just have alternate ways of doing so.  Ultimately, however, I feel that this fact has not been fully realized by the general population because most women don't do what it takes to PROVE it.  Instead, they stay within the confines of the expectations this society has of them and accept that it's all they are capable of. 

I refuse to be one of those women...I know I am capable of greater things and am intent on discovering just what those things are!

6 days and counting...

Friday, September 9, 2011

Where I Lay My Head is Home...

Our new Hennessy Hammocks arrived yesterday - the subsequent set-up results can be seen in the above photo. I am thrilled - they are very comfortable and incredibly easy to put up and take down!  In the 'needs' department having a place to sleep ranks right up there with food and water so I feel a lot more calm and confident now that they're here.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Introduction

My name is April but I am more recently referred to as A.J. - a nickname given to me by my partner.  I am 33 years old and currently reside in Virginia Beach, VA - Occupation - City Manager of a Photography company in Norfolk, VA.  I am the mother of six children who, due to the combination of divorce and unfortunate circumstances, are not currently living with me.  They are happy, healthy, and safe with family, however, and this I am very grateful for. 

Circumstances being what they are I have been forced to re-evaluate my life, my beliefs, my desires, and my direction.  At first a lot of time and effort went into trying to put myself in a position to care for my children alone after separating from my husband.  The system was involved and I put my everything into doing what I was told and attempted to begin a career after years of being a stay-at-home mom.  When it came down to it, however, I was not able to do what needed to be done (make enough money) in the amount of time I was given to do so.  Instead of helping me achieve that goal the system failed me as I'm sure they do so many others.

So here I am now, a forever changed human being, in search of who I am and where I want to go from here.  I am not content with solidarity and stagnation, I know there is something better out there and am intent on finding it.  In my quest to discover myself I have been honored to meet a wonderful man (Mike), who is my best friend and the love of my life.  We met two years ago and have grown closer with each passing day - I know of nobody else who would understand or be willing to join me on the journey we are about to embark on - nor anyone I would WANT to.

I am now four days away from unemployment and a week and a half away from total freedom - walking away from 'everything' in search of all that has been lost by modern humankind.  This blog has been created to document the journey and spiritual transformation that I know will transpire over the coming months/years of backpacking the country - it is my hope that it will invoke thought, hope, strength, and action in those that take the time to read my experiences.