I’m gonna go ahead and apologize in advance for all the names I’ve already forgotten and the ones I’m inevitably going to get wrong. I met a TON of people over the six days I was there but I hope they all know that their kind words, advice, and encouragement were ALL appreciated. You know who you are! Also, longest post ever! But there are six days of awesome that are going to explode if I don’t let them out so here goes:
The Sappy Stuff
Got home late last night from ALDHA’s 33rd Gathering and am so happy to be home. I am still processing the past week. For anyone who has never been to a Gathering, it seems to be an emotional affair for just about everyone. There was an abundance of nostalgia as friends that haven’t seen each other are reconnected as if a single day hadn’t gone by. There was a sadness for those that are no longer with us. There was a sigh of relief from those who had just finished, some of them the very day before, followed by an increasing and well deserved sense of pride. There was even excitement from next year’s dreamers who can’t wait to get out there. For myself, there was an overwhelming anxiety that slowly and steadily melted away with every warm smile and enthusiastic handshake that was extended in my direction. I was so worried about going that I almost didn’t go. Now I’m glad I did and my only regret was that I didn’t take more pictures. I don’t have the words to accurately describe the magnitude of kindness I received from strangers. They took me under their collective stinky hiker armpit wing as if there was absolutely no doubt in their minds that this was where I belonged. There is a reason this beautiful band of misfit hikers describe themselves as a trail family and it shows. Thankfully for me, they were not only willing, but eager, to watch their family grow just a little bit bigger this week by letting me tag along, and for that I am eternally grateful.
Thursday – Travel Schmavel
Got up at 3 a.m. and Mission Control (my husband’s new off-trail name!) dropped me off at the airport. Caught my flight, watched a beautiful sunrise from up above the clouds, and landed at Bradley Intl. Airport in CT. Rented a car and drove up to Williamstown, MA. The outlet in the rental didn’t work so I used the GPS on my phone the whole way there not knowing that it wasn’t charging. I showed up exhausted and a little frazzled. I was really excited to find out that the very first person I met there lives only about an hour and half from me in TX! Small world. I parked, set up my tent, and went into the barn to see if there was anything I could help with. There was only one person there and we had a brief, slightly abrupt conversation. I’d prefer to focus on the positive aspects of this trip so I won’t go into detail but in retrospect I think he was trying to yogi dinner out of me… unsuccessfully… and that’s why he was rude. I left the barn with my eyes watering and fully intended to go straight to my tent and not let this person upset me. Unfortunately, the woman I had met previously was pulling out of the parking lot and asked if I wanted to join them for dinner. The combination of being up early, traveling all day, having trouble with the rental car, and the uncomfortable conversation had all built up inside me. After all of that, here was this kind stranger inviting me to dinner, something I didn’t know was normal for this group of people, and I should’ve gladly accepted and hopped in the car. Instead, I said no thanks and cried all the way to my tent. I know she (Red Hat???) could tell I was upset but I didn’t want everyone’s first impressions of me to be the girl who cries… so of course it made me cry. It’s like trying not to laugh. The harder you try, the harder you’re going to laugh. I slept for 12 hours.
Friday – Volunteering and Opening Session
As much as I wanted to stay in my tent all day, I made myself get up and go volunteer again. I am sooooo glad I did. It was the best possible thing I could have done. It set the tone for the rest of the week for me. By volunteering, I met so many people I may not have and it made me feel like I was contributing. With the help of Monty and Randy, I was pointed in all the right directions. I helped man the ALDHA store with some wonderful ladies and it was actually a lot of fun. I met another woman named Kerry (rare!) “Treehugger” who’s planning to hike the A.T. next year. She has such a great attitude and exudes confidence. I hung out with her as much as I could, in hopes that some of it would rub off on me. I hope to see her on the trail next year. I met Barbara “Mamaw B”, who was told about my fears of traveling alone and wanted to help. We had exactly the conversation I needed to have at the exact moment I needed to have it. She is full of fantastic stories and it’s entirely possible that I would like to be her when I grow up.
We packed everything up in the trailer and headed to the ’62 Center for the Opening Session. There were some great things to be said but I have to admit that my favorite part was standing up with Kerry when they asked who was new and planning to hike next year. We were all grins. There was a small reception afterwards and it was a little much for me to handle so I excused myself quite a few times. I don’t do crowds well and even though everyone was nice it was still too many people for me. Then after 15 minutes of trying to turn the stupid headlights on in my rental car (that shouldn’t be hard!), I skipped the campfire and went to bed.
Saturday – Nerd Alert! Workshops
I missed out on the Hiker Fair because I was too busy eating and going to workshops. This was what I had been waiting for. I’m happy with the workshops I picked but there were a lot to choose from and I definitely wished I didn’t have to pick between ones that were in the same time slots. I wanted to go to all of them!
The first one was Lightweight Backpacking presented by Monty Tam. There is absolutely no way I am doing a 5 lb base weight but he had some great things to say and I will incorporate a few of his ideas into what I’ve already got going on. He asked me to help demonstrate his tarp/poncho/packcover and I did. Now, this is something that I normally would’ve just refused to do. I would’ve been too embarrassed but because we were tent neighbors and he had already helped me out so much, I felt comfortable doing it and even had fun.
Next was Ask the A.T. Class of 2014. That was great because all the reactions and answers were from people whose mental and physical states were fresh off the Trail. I learned a few things I hadn’t thought of before.
I ate lunch while Jeff “Blazer” Smith looked over my printed gear list. I’m such a nerd, I know! I can’t thank him enough for that. He had some good ideas… I may have made him a little late to his own workshop, Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. Oops! His workshop was full of pictures which I really liked. I mean, everything all day was interesting but after hours and hours of this stuff, it was nice to have something to look at.
The last workshop for me for the day was Planning the Dream, presented by Baltimore Jack. It was great information that only comes with experience… supplemented by comic relief. I laughed a lot and, honestly, was surprised that he wasn’t an arrogant person. Or he didn’t seem like it in the classroom anyway. I don’t know why but I thought he was going to be pushy about things but he is very much a “hike your own hike” kinda guy, NOT a “hike your own hike but if you don’t do it the way I do it then you’re an idiot” type. I was glad I went.
I met a guy, Aaron, that had coincidentally chosen all four classes I did so we stuck together much of the day. We have similar senses of humor and were happy to have each other’s company. I mean, if he thought I was stalking him he at least was nice enough not to say it. We went to the preview of “The Long Start to The Journey” together. This film by Chris “Frost” Gallaway about the A.T. is going to be incredible. The quality of not just the film itself, but the story and history as well, is the best I’ve seen. Great stuff. After the movie, I laughed late into the night with Aaron and his bag o’ beers.
Sunday – Hiking, Workshops, & a SHOWER!
Started the day off with my very first white blaze! I hugged the tree and may have gotten some funny looks but I don’t think they realized what was happening. My first blaze and my very first steps on the A.T. What a day! We did a nice 3-mile round trip to Mount Prospect in the Greylock Range to an overlook where you could see the campsite down below. I was a little slow going but was proud of myself for getting all the way from Houston to make it happen. Dianna “Beetle” let me tag along in her car and shared her knowledge of geology and plants to distract me from the butt kicking I was being handed. We unfortunately missed the group photo but I just HAD to get out there and hike. I came all this way for the A.T. and I wasn’t about to miss it for a picture.
(Am I the only person that’s wondered why some are mounts and some are mountains? Springer Mountain vs. Mount Katahdin! I found some info here, if you’re interested.)
I finished out the afternoon with two more workshops. I even got the signatures all weekend so I could turn it in for my Long Distance Hiking Diploma! Haha I know it’s a little silly but I figured I might as well if I was going to the classes anyway. I’ll post pictures when it gets here. Prehab: Get in Shape, Stay in Shape was good except it seemed to be geared a little more towards the older crowd. There was some great advice about stretching and taking care of your feet that really applies to any age so I’m still glad I went.
The last workshop of the weekend was More than a Green Tunnel presented by “Maw” and “Paw” Tucker, who I met while volunteering on Friday. They’re so sweet, I just want to hug them all day long. It was very laid back with lots of pictures of plants and some positive ways of looking at things. They make a great team.
There was an event in the evening and I had planned to shower and go to it but I never made it that far. I took a shower and got some great advice from a trio of ladies in the locker room. I can’t remember any of their names but they were on the morning hike as well. I had learned by this point to stop introducing myself to people because I had already accidentally RE-introduced myself to several people I’d already met and I didn’t want to offend anyone. There were just too many people to remember! Anyway, they gave me some of the best advice I’d gotten all weekend, like carrying a mechanical pencil, and to take photos when people offer you their cards or their contact info that way you don’t have to carry anything extra, and some good advice on blogging while on trail, etc. They were a great bunch and I wished I’d had more time with them. I’m sure I’ll see them around eventually. Thanks, ladies!
Monday – Work Trip AKA The. Best. Day. Ever.
There were two work trips and I chose the trail relocation north of North Adams. I was in the mood for some good old fashion manual labor and Cosmo Catalano (Berkshire AMC) did not disappoint. Of all the things I was expecting from the Gathering, sore arms was not one of them! We made the new trail by removing the duff, rocks, and roots and slanting it a little for water runoff. This was such a great group of people. I wish I could remember all of their names. I carpooled with Camel and Weather Carrot (I hope that’s right!) and had a blast. They both have excellent senses of humor and we laughed a lot.
I wanted to give to the A.T. before I ever even had a chance to take from it, and that’s exactly what happened. We made some mighty fine-looking trail… even though I have never done trail work so it could’ve been crappy! Haha I guess I’ll find out next year when I hike it. I’ll let you know.
After working all morning, a few people left and took tools with them back down so that we wouldn’t have to carry extra at the end of the day. So it somehow worked out towards the end where there weren’t enough of the big tools for everyone so I ended up with a pair of loppers. I didn’t want to just stand there so I started going up and down the trail seeing if anybody needed roots cut. Someone would yell “loppers” and I’d show up. Finally, someone called me Cyndi Lauper and we all started laughing. I’d been given quite a few trail names already throughout the weekend and they were funny but this one was personal. Nobody there knew it but in my job as an autopsy assistant I used loppers every day AND on my first date with my husband I bought a Cyndi Lauper vinyl. I didn’t want to name myself and I didn’t want to be named after a single event that didn’t actually describe my personality. This was perfect. It’s a cute story and it has personal meaning. I couldn’t have planned it better myself. I’ll take it! I wanted to sleep on it before I committed but I’m now at home in Houston writing this blog post and it’s pretty clear to me that I am Cyndi Loppers. :) Although, I may sign registers as just Loppers so I’m not obviously female? We’ll see.
Then when I thought the day couldn’t get any better, they were nice enough to give me the honors of painting the new blazes. It was actually quite embarrassing as there were several cameras on me but it was one of the coolest things that could’ve happened. An extra thank you to Marji for texting me one of those pics to put on the Facebook page. I really enjoyed working and talking with her. She’s a very genuine person. I don’t know how to explain it but I felt like everything she was saying to me was real and that she meant all of it. She wasn’t just saying things you’re supposed to say to new people, if that makes sense. So, not only did I get to see my first white blaze but I also got to paint my first one! How cool is that?
After a hard day’s work and eating way too much, we went back to the campsite and helped Eric “Mini Mart” White, the triple crowner whose property we were squatting on, roll up an extension cord. We thanked him for opening up his beautiful property to ALDHA and to us and then the few of us that were left shared stories (the evils of kidney stones by Head-n-Out and her husband!) until it was dark. Good times. :)
Tuesday – Leaving on a Jet Plane
Okay, fine, nothing really happened this day. I packed up and flew home, but I feel the need to finish out the story. By the time I got together my gear explosion inside my tent, there was only one other person left. Everyone else had packed up and gone home. I was trying to fit everything back into my suitcase in the trunk when he walked up. Can you guess who it was? THE GUY THAT MADE ME CRY THE FIRST DAY! My heart sank for a nanosecond before everything that everyone had been saying to me for the past five days came rushing back to me. I was not going to let this person upset me again and I didn’t. After all, it wasn’t entirely his fault. I was exhausted from travelling and afraid of being alone. It was just as much my fault as it was his. We actually had a decent little conversation this time and left on a high note. (He of course had no idea that he was being a jerk the other day and I didn’t mention it.) Normally, I would’ve just been a bitch and then left. Once you wrong me, I can be unforgiving. Something about me felt just a little different though. I felt like I’d grown. Kerry let this guy talk down to her and walked away, but Cyndi Loppers stood her ground and schooled him about websites where he could get information on gear and how to ditch his SEVEN pound backpack. I have to say, it felt pretty damn good. :)