I have terminated my solo trek of the Appalachian Trail. Of course I’m disappointed that I did not complete the full 2,189 miles from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine all in one go, but there’s always next year.
I did, however, make it to Etna, New Hampshire at mile 1,752.9. It has been one of the most physically and mentally gruelling experiences of my life. My feet and walking posture may be permanently altered. I’m getting to an age when I should be humped over anyway. My resolve to stand on in the face of adversity has been enhanced, and I’ve enjoyed the celebrity status of being a “Through Hiker” since passing the half way point.
Everything had been going as well as could be expected until the evening I discovered, to my great dismay, two deeply embedded partially engorged Deer or Blacklegged Ticks (Ixodes scapularis). Of course, they managed attachment in the nether regions where the sun seldom shines. There, they escaped my detection for some indeterminate amount of time. From my limited perspective, I could see that the attachment sites were red, inflamed, and about two inches in diameter. In the evening twilight I determined to remove them immediately. Not having any proper fine jawed tweezers, and being semi-panicked, I started pulling and twisting at the ticks until they came off. This method of removal is not recommended as squeezing the ticks has potential to reintroduce extracted blood back into the attachment site. As most folks know, Deer Ticks are implicated for Lyme Disease. What is less well known is their implication for Babesiosis, Anaplasmosis, Powassan Encephalitis, Tick Paralysis, Tularaemia, Bartonellosis, and Ehrilchosis. All of which are endemic to New England, and none of which are good. Literature on the subject suggests that multiple simultaneous infections are possible. So, I determined to seek medical advice as soon as possible.
The next day, inquiry at a trail angel’s home directed me to a walk-in-clinic in White River Junction, Vermont. Arriving early, I was lucky to be received by a Dr. Lacey, who examined the tick bite sites, and immediately prescribed doxycycline. Then he settled into a steady inquiry as to my general health. Was I abnormally tired? Were the inflamed areas increasing in size? Was I experiencing any joint pain? Was I needing to take medication to continue hiking? Did I feel feverish or confused? After three and one half months of continuous hiking, I could truthfully answer yes to all these questions. Leaving me with my festering thoughts, he departed the examining room to make a couple of phone calls. Upon his return, he definitively stated that I should leave the Trail for at least two weeks, finish the course of antibiotics, and be re-examined by a competent physician. So, I phoned my wonderful wife Susan, and she agreed to come and collect me.
I had not until that time seen ticks of any sort anywhere on the AT. No one I had encountered mentioned anything about ticks, so I was caught completely off guard. This distresses me considerably because I pride myself on being well apprised of all the flora fauna I’m encountering on a continuum. I had been carrying DEET since the middle of Virginia intending to begin applying it regularly once ticks and biting insects were encountered. Save the odd aggravation of a few crepuscular mosquitoes, I’d not been aware of anything seeking a blood meal.
So, here I sit in my humble abode back in Bedford, Nova Scotia reminiscing and cogitating on my great endeavour. I had heretofore believed that I would be enormously disappointed with myself if I didn’t complete the whole 2,189 miles of the Appalachain Trail. Thankfully, nothing could be farther from the case. It has been, in the end, a thoroughly worthwhile adventure. I met hundreds of interesting people, even if most were only a third my age. Germany, Switzerland, Canada and the whole continental United States were well represented. Oddly, I met no one from the UK or any of the other Commonwealth countries.
I believe that I am correct in thinking that the original intent of Benton MacKaye, when he first conceived of the Appalachian Trail, was to provide a retreat of sorts for shell shocked and disillusioned World War One veterans. Veterans that would today be labeled victims of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The Trail certainly provides plenty of time to be alone in a secluded contemplative environment. I certainly met several disillusioned veterans, although none of them corroborated my thoughts on Benton MacKay’s original intent.
As for myself, there was more than enough time to rehash all the formative years of my life and contemplate the why’s and wherefores that make a person who they are. More than enough time to review all the people one likes and dislikes. More than enough time to consider why some people spend the bulk of their time dwelling in the past or the future or remain consumed in the present. More than enough time to consider the springs and motives that influence a person’s life. Lots of time to consider that the best things a parent can give his children are roots to remember, and wings to fly. For all the chance to ruminate, I am truly grateful. There is something about a long walk that sets a person’s brain to pondering, and the AppalachianTrail is nothing if it isn’t a long walk.
I will not forget the penetrating cold and rain of March and April. I will not miss the constant frustration of “pointless ups and downs “, the trails slimy muck and precarious footing. Nor will I miss the aching feet, lame back, squalid shelters, or the damp wet everything. Especially, the rehydrated oats, pasta, and instant mashed potatoes on which hikers survive will not be missed.
I will miss the fellowship of kindred spirits, the carping about hardships endured, and learning about places I’ve never been. Plus, the relief of anxiety that a good volley of curses can provide.
I would like to thank all of you that have followed my ramblings by way of my sporadic blog. Especially, those of you that have taken the time to post comments. Your thoughts and words have been most supportive and much appreciated during my sojourn.
For now my wanderlust has been well satiated. However, Herman Melville has it right in the opening pages of Moby Dick “these, with all the attending marvels of a thousand Patagonian sights and sounds, helped sway me to my wish. With other men, perhaps, such things would not be inducements; but as for me, I am tormented by an everlasting itch for things remote.”
Light Heart, Easy Pace