Archive For: Hiking

Why “The Idiot” is not crazy

100_1721

I’m not crazy.

Honest.

(My Mom had me tested)

Yes, I am disabled. It’s true that ever since March 2, 1999 I have dealt with a number of neurological issues related to the Medical Malpractice error that my quack Spinal Surgeon blessed me with during my supposedly “routine” back surgery.

Yes, the circulation in my legs is shot, courtesy of spinal nerve damage that has impaired the flow of blood to and from my legs. Yes, this has caused me two DVT blood clots, but thanks to blood-thinning medication, I have not had a clot since the summer of 1999.

Yes, the nerve damage has also resulted in both of my legs being completely numb, all the time. Sit on the floor with your legs crossed until they fall asleep. Now, stand up. This is what I have dealt with on a daily basis since 1999. I have numbness and tingling in the legs, yet the legs never have “woken up” since the surgery. It took months of physical therapy to get me to where I could walk “normally” again. Now, I am so good at it that I walk with just the slightest of limps.

A limp that results from another side-effect of the nerve damage, drop foot on my left foot and ankle. Since the surgery, the foot and ankle are the equivalent of a broken shopping cart wheel. Many braces and even a tendon transfer surgery have all been attempted to try to straighten my foot, all to no avail. It is what it is. It just does it’s thing, and I do mine.

Yes, even with all these problems in my legs, the nerve damage done to my spine was not yet done with me. The vital areas of the spinal cord which control normal bowel and bladder function were also damaged. I won’t go into great detail, but this is just another aspect of my disability that I have dealt with on a daily basis since my surgery.

Because of all this, I have been on disability and have been unable to work since 1999.

My effective job title should be “Disabled Househusband”.

While my body might be damaged, my mind has always been perfectly fine. (My wife will argue against this statement)

In the years prior to getting hurt, I was a Nurse, a Tech Specialist, an Intelligence Analyst, A Sales Agent, you name it. I was even a Cave Guide for the National Park Service for two summers back in the mid 1980’s. Since 1999, I’ve been a stay-at-home Dad because of the disability. There’s nothing wrong with that. Grudgingly, I accepted that fact years ago.

What I lost when I got hurt was my DREAMS.

While working, I always had dreams as to how high I was going to climb on my career ladder, had dreams of the places I was going to visit with my family, and dreams about what I wanted to accomplish with the rest of my life.

Getting hurt instantly squashed all those dreams.

In recent months, I have started searching for a new dream. Something that I could look forward to, work towards, and strive for. Something that would make a huge damn mark on what I have accomplished in the years since I got hurt.

I want that accomplishment that will have my grandkids talking about me, telling their friends about their disabled grandfather that did this thing so amazing, so unbelievable, so magical, that their friends just smile and say “Your Grandfather is so cool!”

I ran marathons back when I was a teenager.

I had a great sense of accomplishment from completing those marathons. I still have a great sense of accomplishment and pride from those races, well over 30 years since I last ran.

I want that sense of accomplishment that will carry me through the rest of my years here on earth.

I am not crazy.

I just have a dream.

The odds say that my chances of finishing the Appalachian Trail are pretty small. About 80% of those who try it, fail. It’s easy to guess that 99% of those attempting the trail are not middle-aged and disabled.
Most people will rightfully think I am crazy for even thinking about doing this hike.

But, who knows…..

Maybe I’ll just make it 100 miles, 200 miles, or 500 miles…..

Even that will be an accomplishment given the state of my legs.

Maybe Steve and I will shock the world. Maybe late Summer 2016 will see us posing atop Mt. Katahdin in Maine, a short 2,200 miles away from where we first started hiking 4-6 months earlier.

Just attempting this hike with good friend Steve will give me a dream to work towards for the next three years. And, if there is one thing we all need, it’s dreams.

April 2, 2013

This was the moment I feared most.

The moment I revealed my plan to my wife and son.

As we sat at the dinner table, I slowly spelled out our plan and the rationale behind it. I fully expected a loud chorus of “You’re crazy!!!” from my family.

Shock #1.

No one thinks I’m crazy. They actually support me.

I know neither of them gives me any chance at all of possibly lasting the whole hike, but I can’t wait to surprise them.

It’s now time to start the weight loss, the walking, and all the preparations that will need to be done long before our hike starts.

Today the dream begins.

Come late Summer of 2016, I’m posting the photo of Steve and I atop that mountain in Maine, right here on this post.

And the dream will have become a reality.

“The [Original] Plan” (Read first)

katahdin-sign

March 20th, 2014

Two broken down, middle-aged Idiots are going to stand atop a mountain in Northern Georgia, will laugh, joke, and will then “high five” each other, before turning and starting to walk north…..

Towards a sign atop a mountain in Maine, over 2,000 miles away.

Yes friends, you read that correctly….

Two THOUSAND miles!

Steve, aka “Taochild“, and Mark, aka “The Idiot“, will be attempting to hike the length of the famed Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.

Honest.

We’re serious!

Quit laughing!

(n2backpacking.com)

(n2backpacking.com)

The Appalachian Trail, usually just called the “AT”, stretches from Springer Mountain in Georgia all the way north to Mount Katahdin in Maine. The trail distance fluctuates each year due to minor changes, but usually ends up being around 2,200 miles long as it passes through a total of 14 states.

People crazy enough to attempt hiking the trail straight through are called “Thru-Hikers”.

Each year, thousands of people attempt to hike the length of the AT. Only about 20% actually succeed. People of all ages and all physical capabilities HAVE completed the trail. A successful thru-hike usually takes anywhere from 4-6 months depending on the speed of the hiker and the weather and trail conditions. Hikers carry only what they can carry on their backs and sleep in various shelters scattered along the trail or in tents that they carry in their backpacks. The trail passes through or near towns every 2-3 days, allowing the hikers to resupply as needed.

McAfee_Knob

Hikers on the trail are not called by name, but instead use a “trail name” that they have chosen in advance, or one that is assigned by other hikers they encounter.

Most hikers, due to the weather conditions, will start their hikes in Georgia in March or April and will then hike north so that they can finish before the trail leading to the summit of Mt. Katahdin closes in Mid October.

Most hikers will average about 15-30 miles a day, hiking virtually every day of the week, irregardless of the weather. The weather can range from Snow in the mountains in the early and late stages of the hike, to blistering heat and humidity during the heat of the summer months. As I said earlier, the trail does go near or through many small towns, allowing the hikers to resupply, shower, eat a hot meal, and even stay overnight in a hostel or motel for a night or two of rest.

Like I said, the trail CAN be completed, and IS completed by people of all ages and physical capabilities. To many, the Psychological aspects of the hike is the hardest adjustment, causing many to drop out soon after starting their hike. I’m hoping that Steve and I are Idiots of such a high caliber that we are too dense to fully appreciate the Psychological pressures associated with living in the woods for up to 6 months straight.

Cell phone service is actually supposed to be pretty good over the length of the trail, resulting in the hikers being able to maintain fairly good contact with friends and family at home. So, other than the sounds of dueling banjos ringing through the valleys and hollers of Appalachia, it’s not like we are going to hiking out in the middle of “nowhere”.

Why?

We each will be posting about our individual reasons for undertaking this crazy idea.

The Plan

The plan is that we each spend the next year PREPARING for this hike. To both of us, that means many of the same things.

Lose weight.
Get in Shape.
Train.
Buy Equipment.
Save Money.

Both of us are admittedly overweight and out of shape. We have plenty of time to rectify that. Once we are in shape, we can each work on hiking and walking in order to get our bodies ready for the daily grind that hiking 2,000 miles entails.
We obviously will need backpacks, tents, sleeping bags, water jugs, etc., all of which cost money. Add in the cost of food for 4-6 months of hiking, plus the occasional hotels in town, postal costs of shipping supplies back and forth between home and trail, costs or replacement supplies, shoes, etc. and the trail gets to be a pretty expensive proposition.

Then, the plan is to meet up in Georgia, on or around the middle of March, 2014, head up to the top of Springer Mountain, get photographed at the marker indicating the beginning of the trail, and then we will start walking………….

and walking, and walking………

(Photo: Franconia Ridge along the AT - Paulbalegend)

(Photo: Franconia Ridge along the AT – Paulbalegend)

Figuring that we each can spur the other to keep on walking, climbing, crawling……

All the way to Mt. Katahdin in Maine.

We each have different reasons for undertaking this mission.

By the time we finish, I’ll be 49 years old, while Steve will be 48.

Two Middle-aged Crazy Idiots, one from Texas, the other from Massachusetts, who just did the unthinkable, walking over 2,200 miles!

And that my friends…..is one heck of a plan!!

Some changes to The Plan …

Why “Taochild” is not crazy

“I knew it would come to this?”

“Then why didn’t you say anything?”

“No you didn’t. You always say you knew what was going to happen after it happens!”

“Well it doesn’t matter, it’s here now. We have to do what we have to do!”

“What he said!”

“I guess so!”

“If we have to!”

“That’s better! Now let’s get on with it!”

Now that all my voices are in agreement, I can proceed to explain why I am not crazy.

When The Idiot initially offered this idea to me, my first thought was … well … “Hell yeah!!” My second and third thought pretty much agreed. My fourth thought paused for a second, and my fifth thought pretty much was in another world altogether. My sixth thought was “I am hungry”, and my seventh and final thought was “Hell yeah!” The “Hell yeah!”‘s had a majority  so here I am.

I sense that some are still not convinced about the lack of crazy.

I grew up understanding that I was simply another part of an amazing world. I have always been of the opinion that the world; nature, is not something we as humans are meant to own or control, but something that we need to recognize as part of ourselves. We are not the earth’s owners. We have a much more important role. We are its guardians. That means that we need to fully understand our place in nature, and how everything plays a part in the health of the world; which directly relates to the health of humanity. If we forget this, we risk disaster on many levels. That said, nature is my charger. When the burdens of life get too much, I head for nature and it all becomes better again.

VhargerTo me humanity is losing its way partly because we have strayed so far from our origins. We are quickly  becoming so dependent on technology and man-made, that we are totally losing our sense of life.  I also believe that the best way to teach and learn is by example. So to me this journey we are about to embark on has several meanings. It is about regaining my sense of life and health. It is about proving to myself and others that not only can we do anything we set our minds to do, we can do it, basically, on our own two feet. No matter what obstacles we might face. This journey is a pilgrimage, a lesson, and homage to our origins all at the same time. I not only expect to come out of it a better man, but with a clearer picture of my own path, and maybe some insight on guiding others in a more life affirming direction.

Come to think of it, maybe that IS crazy. But personally, I prefer that kind of crazy then the self-destructive insanity our world as a whole seems intent on embracing. 🙂