View Full Version : ATN Reflections - Gone Fishin'

07-02-2004, 15:08
If you haven't seen this from the latest Appalachian Trailway News, it's worth a read..

Gone fishin’
By Susan Gately

Most hikers, even many nonhikers, hear it at some point in their lives: the siren call of the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /><st1:place>Appalachian Trail</st1:place>. It might drift into their consciousness through hearing a story of a friend or relative hiking the Trail, or perhaps it wafts out of the pages of A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, or it could appear when they idly wonder what would happen if they took a stroll one day and just kept on strolling until people started worrying. Whatever the stimulus, suddenly the forest opens up to reveal a trail where there once was none. I’d be greatly surprised if there were ever a hiker who didn’t get misty-eyed for at least a moment at the possibility of hanging up that “Gone Fishin’” sign and following the Trail where it leads.

Most people pass those moments by—the thought a curiosity, an unrealistic daydream. After all, they think, don’t you have to be rich to take that kind of time off? Doesn’t it take years of planning and the acquisition of technical equipment? Wouldn’t I have to lose my beer gut first? They turn their attention back to daily tasks. For others, those are moments when a new self is born.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /><o:p></o:p>

It happened to me. The summer of 2001 found me working in a management job I loathed, chafing under unpleasant obligations, and literally living for the weekends. When Friday finally arrived, I would head immediately to the <st1:place>White Mountains</st1:place> with friends. The only stress was choosing which trails to take; the biggest decision was how many layers to wear. I tried to pack a week’s worth of joy and life into each day.<o:p></o:p>

Yet, somehow, that all seemed normal. Outside of joining the Peace Corps, scratching out a living as a starving artist of some sort, or starting a utopian community somewhere, our society doesn’t offer much in the way of alternatives to a 9-to-5 life. I tried to suppress my feelings of entrapment with the usual appeasements: Be thankful for your salary, I told myself. Learn to pretend you care about your job; maybe someday you actually will. Try to have a life outside working hours. Maybe someday things will be different.<o:p></o:p>

Had I not casually picked up a copy of A Walk in the Woods at my sister’s tag sale (for free—sorry, Gail), I might still be living that half-life. Bryson’s bumbling attempt to thru-hike the A.T. made it real and accessible. Sure, he failed to complete his hike, but at least he demystified the experience. As soon I read the last word, I decided to take a “test trip,” solo on the A.T., for three days. I would think through the idea, monitor myself, see how I felt being out there with a pack.<o:p></o:p>

How did I feel? I felt at home. I felt liberated. I felt inspired. On an overlook near Zealand Hut, I met a thruhiker who asked me if I were training to hike the A.T. “Yes,” I said, loving the feel of the word.<o:p></o:p>

Hiking the Trail is one of those few socially acceptable ways to hang up that “Gone Fishin’” sign and disappear. I took it. In March 2002, I was headed up the approach trail to <st1:place><st1:PlaceName>Springer</st1:PlaceName><st1:PlaceType>Mountain</st1:PlaceType></st1:place> with my Trail partner, “Tigger,” and we finished our journey that September.<o:p></o:p>

The liberation! How sublime to call the utility companies to cancel service! Or to forward mail to some family member’s address (after all, you literally have no address once you step on the Trail). Or to apologize in advance for missing future social events, and to tell your landlord to start looking for a new tenant. How satisfying to see the look of shock on your boss’s face when you tell him that you are leaving your job! No, not for a better job, you say with a smile, but to give up most of your possessions to wander the woods, think about life, and get very, very dirty.<o:p></o:p>

Of course, dropping out for a while does require sacrifices. Many find them impossible to make. One thing the Trail taught me, however, is that there is almost no valid excuse for not dropping everything and following it when it beckons. Along the way, I met extraordinary individuals who were out there with packs on their backs, even if they didn’t fit into a stereotypical vision of what a hiker should be. Too out of shape? Not a problem—I saw more than one person work themselves from flabby to fit in a few months. Too old? On my ascent of Katahdin, I met a couple in their eighties who were celebrating the ten-year anniversary of their first thru-hike (“We were just young things then,” the chipper woman said.) Too poor? Even financial reasons can slip into the background when you realize that it can actually be a thrifty venture, with very few opportunities for spending money in the backcountry.<o:p></o:p>

The key is to listen to the call of the Trail and believe it enough to make it happen. And, for those who feel the urge, but successfully keep it at bay, thru-hikers salute you. After all, someone’s got to stay behind to mind the store.<o:p></o:p>