I’ll be on Springer Mountain, Georgia in just a few days (03.19.15) to start my Appalachian Trail (AT) adventure. I set up a card table in my man cave and have started to get all my gear in one place. I bought a warmer sleeping bag because of all the cold, cold weather in the south this spring. As I talk to people daily about the AT, I’m usually asked…
“How are you feeling, Phil? You must be excited?”
Ya, I’m excited. Partly. And other parts are terrified, nervous, calm, anxious, determined, peaceful, relieved, sad, grateful, happy, curious, … Um, probably others too, but I have never been too good at describing my emotions. I am, after all, a typical male.
I wish I were in better physical shape. I’m using this harsh Connecticut weather as my excuse. I had been walking many miles with a fully loaded pack, but with all the snow on the roads walking around town has become a bit too hazardous; probably more dangerous than hiking the AT.
So my plan is to gradually acclimate to trail life. I won’t set out doing big miles, probably single-digit daily miles the first few weeks, then we’ll start to stretch it out.
People have also asked me, “What happens if you don’t finish?” Good question. My sponsor was worried about my sobriety if I failed to make Mount Katahdin in Maine. My response has been that my goal has never been to finish; my goal has been to start. I’m fairly confident that I will start – the preparation is nearly complete, the flight to Atlanta booked, my ride to Springer Mountain in place and my gear is ready.
I like my chances of completing the 2,189 miles. These are my Top 5 reasons.
5. Recovery. 27 years of recovery is a tremendous asset. The tools I use daily will help me immensely. For example, live “one day at a time”. And “keep it simple”. The idea is to simplify my days – get up, eat, pack, walk, eat, walk, set up camp, sleep, do it again. Another slogan used in recovery is “this too shall pass”. When I’m hungry, angry, lonely and tired (HALT), I understand that this too shall pass. No need to make a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
4. Planning. For 4 years, I have read countless books, researched gear and took long walks with a fully loaded backpack. I picked up a couple savage thruhikers, Wanderbus and Safety First, who spent 2 days in our home and shared their first-hand experience. I’ve done my best to prepare the CCAR staff to carry on with colors flying while I’m away. But mostly, I’ve worked on my attitude. I will enjoy myself. I realize how incredibly fortunate I am to be able to give this a go.
3. Mental Preparation. Zach Davis, in his book Appalachian Trials, writes about the importance of mental preparation in determining who completes the thruhike. Only 1 in 4 people who set out for a thruhike complete it. And out of the ones who do, it his assessment that an even smaller percentage actually enjoy the journey. I believe I am mentally prepared. I know it’s going to be extremely difficult at times (although I probably can’t fully fathom this until I’m in it). Mentally, my game plan is this: when the going gets tough (like when I’m slogging through my 5th straight day of cold rain and mud), I have to ask myself, “Can I take one more step?” If the answer is yes, then I’ll take one more step. Sounds a lot like recovery, doesn’t it? If the answer is no (maybe I’ve fallen and have a bone protruding through my skin) then I have another situation.
2. Support. My family has showered me with love and encouragement. I am really going to miss them. From where I begin in Georgia, it’s about 1,400 miles back home to Connecticut. I’ll be walking home – that’s motivation! But then, I have another 700 or so miles to go. That’s going to be tough. Over the last few years, I’ve told a LOT of people, who in turn have told a lot of people, who in turn… you get the idea. I’ve had articles published, radio shows aired and TV interviews broadcast. We’ve been all over facebook, twitter and instagram. Now some might say that this would increase the pressure to finish, to not let anyone down. I frankly don’t look at it that way. Instead of having all these people on my shoulders, I feel I will be riding on theirs. And for that, I am grateful. It really struck home when I was at the Bridgeport Recovery Community Center when they all assembled around me, laid their hands on me and prayed. I closed my eyes and basked in the spiritual energy and when I opened my eyes, they were all crying, tears streaming. Afterwards, several people spoke to me with gratitude, saying things like, “If you can attempt to do this, then I can…”Wow! I had no idea. Check out the video they put together here.
1. God’s Call. As I was shaking and quaking in withdrawal from heavy narcotic medication, brutal chemotherapy and intense radiation treatments in late 2010, I heard God whisper, “Walk the Appalachian Trail.”“Wait. What? The whole thing?!?” “Hmmm hm, the whole thing.”Sandy was the first person I told and she was like, “OK honey, whatever you say. You’re so sweet.” (Yes, she thought I was delusional). Then things started to unfold. Even Sandy is a believer now. This small ember blazed into a fire. Forces beyond my control were conspiring to make this happen. To me, a power greater than myself was opening doors and removing barriers.
So the absolute number one reason why I like my chances is my God is with me, every step of the way.