Alone in the Woods

Several weeks ago, I finished reading Hiking Through by Paul Stutzman. The book is Mr. Stutzman’s memoir detailing his goal to hike the entire 2,176 miles of the Appalachian Trail after he lost his wife to cancer.

To be completely honest, I don’t think the book was written very well from a technical standpoint. If you’re someone who reads on a regular basis, it’s clear that Stutzman is not an author by trade. Also, his goal when he began his trek was to spread the message to other men that they should appreciate what they have in their lives – specifically their families and wives. From his standpoint, this was ultimately lost on me given the notion I’m single and have no real short-term intent on settling down and marrying. Somewhere along his journey, his message morphed into wanting to show hikers and anyone else encountered on the AT that the “Christian life” doesn’t have to be a boring one. And while I appreciate how he incorporated his Christian stories and anecdotes into the story, again, this point was mainly lost on me.

But sometimes, none of that matters.

It was an excellent book that reached out to me personally due to my trip around the country. I appreciated the emotional highs and lows Stutzman encountered on his hike because I had them too. I know the freedom that’s associated with just leaving our material life behind and living off of what you can carry. I know the loneliness that comes with tackling a trip that daunting alone. I understand the problem-solving skills required when everything doesn’t always work out as planned. I know the tug between having to decide to head home to your known comfort zone or soldier on to finish what you started. Even though he wins the toughness competition for doing it on foot, I understand the disappointments and frustrations that come along with something as minute as having to set up or take down a tent in the rain. Most importantly, I know the intense level of accomplishment – yet at the same time disappointment – of finishing a goal that immense and that trying.

The coincidences even boiled down to specific locations I visited.

  • When his wife was told she had cancer, they took a trip to West Virginia so that she could relay the message to one of their daughters in person. To allow them alone time, Paul went to clear his head in the nearby Harpers Ferry NHP. The same National Park my puppy Harper is named after and that I blogged about. He took a walk to Jefferson Rock. The same Jefferson Rock I snapped pictures of. It’s where he learned of the Appalachian Trail since a portion runs through Harpers Ferry. It’s where his goal was born.

  • His first night, he stayed Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia. My first night? Yup, you guessed it. He stayed there because it’s the unofficial start of the AT with an 8.5 mile hike that goes from the park to the official starting place of the AT. I stayed because I was bound and determined to camp as many nights as I could and that was one of the few places I found in Northern Georgia. The similarities end there though, as he stayed in their nice lodge while I camped 1/8 of a mile from the falls. But I did check in at the lodge that night. I walked the same path he walked. Maybe even talked to the same rangers.

    

  • He also chronicled his hike up Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. Ironically, I never chronicled my trip to and drive up it. It’s famous for its “dangerously erratic weather” – measuring the fastest wind speed in the US at 231 mph in 1934. I was there in early October and they had already closed the top portion of the drive off due to snow and ice. Visibility was less than 100 feet at the turn around and the winds were whipping at 50 mph. I was near the treeline where I stopped but the colors on the way up and down were amazing.

         

It made me want to hike the Appalachian Trail some day. But it also made me realize how incredibly coordinated you must be with friends and family on the outside to plan food drops and equipment changes for the different sections of the trail. It made me want to run away from everyone and everything else again and do something for me. It made me want to taste that sense of accomplishment again. It’s addicting once you’ve cut loose once.

Despite my criticisms, his story helped me relate, recall, and relive my life alone around the country from a year ago. It’s funny how a book’s message can say exactly what you’re looking for at a moment in time. It boils down to the story being somewhat of a comfort – someone out there knows what I went through.

Someone gets me.

And I get them.

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2 Responses to Alone in the Woods

  1. Shyanne says:

    That is so very weird….part of his and your story relates to me. Back in the 1980’s I homeschooled my kids for six years, during their elementary grades. We used to go on tons of field trips with our home school group that consisted of families in the Middle West counties of Georgia. While working up curriculum one year I discovered the Appalachian Trail from reading National Geographic. It became my obsession to walk the trail before I kicked the bucket. I knew I would have to wait until my kids were grown, or at least teenagers to see if they wanted to go with me for a 6 months field trip. Life changed drastically and I have not been able to do it so far.

    I am still drawn to anything about the Appalachian Trail. My kids and I even visited Amicalola State Park during one of trips and took pictures just like the ones you show. We saw where the Trail started and it was so exciting. We walked up the mountain to a bridge that went over the falls. We made it a fun trip by also visiting Stone Mountain outside Atlanta, then to Dahlonega, GA to pan for gold and then up to Amicalola.

    I’m 56 and I know the chances of a woman my age walking the trail alone are slim to none. I could never seem to get anyone willing to take an adventure….LOL. So, YOU must do it for all of us out here that had the dream but could never fulfill it. But, be careful if you decide to do so. A few people have gone missing out there. The stories I’ve read about it takes a LOT of planning. Some people go into town at times to pick up care packages from home, or stay in a hotel for a day or two before returning to the trial. With cell phones today, it would be a lot safer. Thanks for your post; it brought back memories to this empty nester mom.

    I’m going to see if my Amicalola falls pics will post (I’m not real good at this):

    I cannot get my pics to paste here I will try on another post.

    • Chances are slim to none? Preposterous! I know there’s a difference and perception between men and women taking solo trips. But Paul Stutzman was 57 when he hiked it in 2008. He also spent many of his days with fellow hikers he met on the trail.

      Nothing says you have to do the entire trail at once either. It’s never too late to start!

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