May 2011

Appalachian Trail Shape

Here’s a challenge for you…

You have two hours to cover seven miles by foot.

Easy enough, right?

Okay now add 1,385 feet of elevation change.

Still very doable.

Now- tack 35 lbs. on your back and add unrelenting roots and sharp rocks along nearly every step of your path.

Okay- that’s a challenge.

Oh yeah, and, you’ve already covered 16 miles of similar terrain earlier that same day.

Holy. Shit.

This was how my day ended on Saturday.

I don’t know if you are capable of this physical feat or not (if you are, hats off) but I know one person who is not.

Me – two months ago.

And I went into this in what I thought was decent shape. I’ve done the marathon thing, I got to the gym at least a couple times per week, I even carried a small library on my back while hiking in preparation for this.

But as it turns out- 10 hours of hiking per day for two months is the only way to turn into a hiking machine- which is what I’ve become. Now, eight percent incline at 3mph for consecutive hours feels akin to casually walking down a sidewalk.

I eat mountains for breakfast.

I don’t claim any special genetic predisposition to walking- everyone on the trail at this point is either a machine or in the metamorphosis process. The only real variance seems to be age and pack weight – and not always then. Last week I did a 26 mile day with my buddy Peregrine. Peregrine is 63 years old.

And there’s still more than 1,300 miles to go. This hiking bot is still only in beta.

Awesome Side Note

Remember our trail angel, Jeff? Taking a day off at his house today. This story has come full halo.

The Virginia Blues Look Awfully Green To Me

Trivia question:

Which state along the Appalachian Trail accounts for the greatest number of miles?

Answer: Virginia

Of the 2,181 miles that make up the Appalachian Trail, Virginia claims 550 of these, just over one quarter of the entire trail. And for this reason, in addition to the repetitive scenery throughout the state, the term Virginia Blues is commonly used to describe the situation whereby a hiker experiences an emotional low- an unusually long stretch of diminished spirits while passing through the Old Dominion.

The Virginia Blues were something I spent a good deal of energy worrying about prior to leaving for the trail. How would I handle 550 miles of repetition? If playing the same song over and over again is a tactic used against POWs, would this stretch cause a similar bout of insanity? A large portion of people who drop off the trail do so in Virginia. Would I fall into this group?

It looks like I’ve answered that question: hell no.

Granted I still have 250 miles of Virginia remaining, but in my humble opinion, the concept of the Virginia Blues has nothing to do with scenery…

When first embarking on the trail, everything about the adventure is exciting. It’s new. It’s invigorating. Even the hard times, although challenging, supply an element of surprise. You always come away from the experience feeling stronger than you did before. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

Every day presented a new challenge, a new terrain, a new group of hikers- every day presented a new experience.

By the time a hiker has reached Virginia, he/she has already set up his/her tent in heavy hail, slept through rapid lightning storms, gone extended stretches without a shower or clean clothes, and most likely dumped a half flask of whiskey all over the bottom of his pack (The Bourbon Blues), multiple times. The setbacks are beginning to lose their subtle charm.

And although the views from the mountain tops are every bit as beautiful, they too have entered into the routine. What once was breath taking, now seems to just make you short on breath.

There is no such thing as the Virginia Blues. What is interpreted as the Virginia Blues is merely the end of the honeymoon phase. It has less to do with state lines, and more to do with state of mind.

I came prepared for this. I’ve had my fair share of extended adventures in the past: from studying in London to moving to San Diego while knowing no one. If you’ve been in a long term relationship, gone away to school, or started a new job, you’ve likely experienced this feeling yourself. Eventually the initial excitement fades. It’s human nature.

Those who attribute their blues to the state of Virginia, are misplacing the blame. Although there is some truth to the expression “the green tunnel” which describes the thick overhang of dense tree coverage throughout much of the state, Virginia is not significantly more repetitive than any of the scenery in Georgia, North Carolina, or Tennessee. McAfee Knob/Dragon’s Tooth (near Catawba, VA) has been one of the best day hikes on the trail thus far. A couple weeks ago, I got to hang out with wild ponies for Christ’s Sake. PONIES!! If that gives you the blues, then we can never be friends.

McAfee Knob

No Tunnel Here

So what can an aspiring thru-hiker do to avoid these so called Virginia Blues? I don’t know if there’s one way to answer that, but this is what has helped me:

Every time the trail begins to feel routine or lacking stimulation, I think about what my alternative would be: sixty hour work weeks, undue stress, and the realization that my free time would likely be spent on a long hike. Quickly perspective is regained, the smile returns, and the temporary cloud of routine is lifted. If that doesn’t work, I meditate, I write, I listen to an audiobook (or the new Fleet Foxes album – so good). If that doesn’t work I get my ass to town and watch a few hours of bad tv, eat some bad food, and observe the many depressed people that populate these towns*.   (*please see comments below)

The tunnel suddenly looks a lot brighter.

Whoops Crosses A River

During the following video, you will laugh.


According to our Appalachian Trail guide book, there’s a campground known as the ‘Captain’s” which is basically some former thru-hiker’s backyard. Amongst hikers, it is common knowledge that he intentionally leaves a fridge full of grape and orange soda out on his patio for hikers to enjoy. There’s one caveat, you have to cross a zipline across a river to get there….

When we approach what we assume is the zipline, it appears as though the transport unit is stuck on the other side of the river.

Enter our hero: Whoop(s).

In no mood to be denied a delicious orange soda, Whoop sees the zipline and decides to cross it Navy Seal style to the other side of the river (another hiker has this video and it has been debated that it’s just as, if not funnier than the following – I hope to get this for you soon).

After getting to the other side of the river, it turns out, there is no soda (the “Captains” was actually another quarter mile away). At this point Whoop(s) has already exerted all of his energy and decides to ford the river instead. Hilarity ensues.

Without further ado, I present to you:

Whoops Crosses A River

Thanks to John for being a good sport about his hilarity.

From Mountain Views to Mountain View

I took a quick detour from the trail last week.

This past Wednesday, I had a 2nd interview with Google (for those who know me, working for them has been a life long dream). Apparently they’re expressing interest in acquiring the Good Badger. I suppose due the sheer size, technically it would be considered more of a merger. The Google Badger.

But in all honesty, I have no choice but to keep my expectations realistically low. By the time you’re done reading this sentence, Google has received approximately 56 more resumes. Apparently when you have 20 complimentary gourmet cafeterias on your campus- people want to work for you. They have no choice but to be ultra-selective. My competition is Harvard grads. I went into the interview with a huge mountain man beard and a borrowed button up shirt and slacks a size and a half too big (Brandon- you’re too tall damnit). I already looked like a homeless guy, the sheer excitement in my eyes to be part of civilization only compounded this impression. Either way, I’m fortunate to have options available to me on the other end of the trail- one of which is being a professional bum (my current vocation).

20110502-043826.jpghomeless man face

Regardless of the outcome, I am finishing the trail. I set out to do something. Damnit- I’m going to do it.

Because arranging the flight to San Francisco required a good amount of guess work in terms of pacing and ability to get to an airport- my current situation looks a tad different than before I left. I arrived into Damascus, VA Sunday- and didn’t get back onto the trail until Thursday afternoon. In other words, Whoop and the rest of the gang are long gone. Badger is flying solo.

Oddly enough, my first two days on the trail after losing the group, I didn’t encounter another human being. That’s the first time I can say that so far. A bit strange, but also strangely awesome. That 36 hour span felt a tad like Man vs. Wild (except I was equipped with 11lbs of Clif Bars and Snickers, and didn’t drink any urine). I have since found other people- but my time in wilderness without fellow human interaction has aroused irreversible animal instincts (I stopped wiping).

This update is brief not due to a lack of information to convey to you but because AT&T grants me 39 seconds of connectivity a week. 37 of those seconds are spent convincing my mom that I’m not dead. More to come later.

Life is good.