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Alone

So a lot of people are kind of baffled, or weirded out when I tell them that I hike alone. They ask me how I do that – how I spend all that time by myself, utterly alone. My standard cookie cutter answer (you tend to have a lot of them in your back pocket when you hike the AT – it’s not a bad thing, you just get a lot of the same questions) is something like, “Well I’m not alone all the time. There’s people that kind of bounce in and out, and you see them here and there. And you hike a little bit with them. But yea, for the most part you are alone.” And that is completely true, even though it is a bit of a boxed answer.

But the deeper truth is something a bit more difficult to articulate in thirty seconds to the questioner. The deeper truth is much more difficult for me even to understand, even though I know it to be true.

I’ve struggled over writing this post for some time now. And I didn’t want to write it too early, because I wanted to make sure what I was thinking and feeling was not of a whim. So bear with me as I try to write this down. It may not come across as eloquently and clearly as I have thought it through in my head. But hopefully some sense, at least, comes through.

The deeper truth is that I am not alone. Yes, there are times when I do feel isolated. Not physical isolation – that I can deal with. I’m talking about platonic isolation. I feel, in effect, isolated and alone in my core. One of the most memorable times this happened was the day after Solitaire and Scuba Springsteen left. I missed home a bit, and I missed my friends and family, and I was a ways behind my trail friends. It was a rough day. So yes, there are definitely tough times at some points. But more importantly, these times are fleeting, and they are few. They are a rut in the mind to be broken out of. They are something to be thought on, understood, and then overcome.

I know there is a deeper knowledge and a deeper truth that I sometimes understand when I am out there. It is not often, and it is as fleeting as my sad times, but it is more true.

Even in physical loneliness, there is sometimes a frame of mind that I see through that shows me that I am never alone. It is difficult to explain in text, or articulate in words, but it is there. When you have a lot of time to think about the world, and the cosmos, and what every thing, every object, every piece of matter, is in the world, you come to see something deeper than these ‘things.’ There is something more, something that resembles more of nothingness, that is part of everything and not part of anything. But it is the one thing the whole of our beings, and the whole of the cosmos share in common. It is not love as we know it today, but it is an energy that we all share. An understanding of empathy that we, along with every other piece of creation, are all part of this experience that we understand as the unfolding universe.

So when I first started my journey, I took my Grandfather’s Yanks hat with me. It was kind of a memento – something to hold on to on tougher days. And it was a way to keep my Grandfather with me who passed a couple of years ago. But as I’ve thought of these things more, and the place of mere matter like a Yankees hat, I’ve come to understand that I don’t need the hat to have my Grandfather.

We always tend to focus on ‘some thing’ nowadays in order to be happy or find a solution. Initially for me, it was my Grandpa’s hat. But what I’ve found is that things are not the answer. There is this amazing ‘no thing’ that binds each and every piece of creation in the cosmos. A nothing that was there before the cosmos came into being, and will be there when it is over. And that great Nothingness is what we all share and what we all somehow experience, in one way or another. It’s an amazing duality that doesn’t make sense – I know it doesn’t make sense. But I love it for what it is. It’s a chance to experience what we have in front of us, to cherish every piece of matter, every object we come to know, but to also realize that all these things somehow sprung forth out of a nothingness. It’s a great feeling when I am able to wrap my mind around it – this connection that all things have. But like I said, I only see it sometimes, in beautifully fleeting moments.

So why do I hike alone? I don’t hike alone – nobody does. Nobody lives alone, nobody dies alone, nobody does anything alone. We’re all part of something amazing, the monumental journey of the universe itself. You can not walk alone in such an extraordinary event – it is impossible.

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An account of Solitaire in Solitude

I apologize in advance for such a long entry…

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About a week before my tip to visit Sir Stooge I was pretty relaxed about everything. He gave me a great list of what I needed to bring, broken out into categories. I’ve never been “hiking” before so I had to scavenge around for all my supplies. The pack from my dad, the tent from a buddy, and underwear from Matt (I was positive his wouldn’t be stretched out, giving me nice support).

My plan was to get a good sleep Thursday night, wake up refreshed, go into work for a few hours, head back to philly, meet up with Scuba Springsteen (Steve Olson) then head to the trail.  Botched! So much for being relaxed. Thursday night I laid everything out on my bed ready to pack it all in the. Put about half my supplies in and it was full. I fit more stuff in my jansport. I started freaking out. Long story short I got about 2 hours of sleep.

Friday afternoon came, I grabbed my bag and me and Scuba were off! Meeting up with someone on the trail takes a bit of planning. What we had to do was drive past chris about 25 miles and park in the town of Port Clinton (more to come on this town). Here we met up with a woman who would taxi us back to where we were meeting the stooge. It was a very interesting ride to say the least.

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As we rounded the corner there was the stooge waiting in ski jump position (imagine hiking polls involved in this picture). Perfect form!We had a quick snack here and then set out on the trail!

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It wasn’t long before I was in shock. Id say it was probably about.. 2 – 3……..steps before I realized this was NOTHING like I expected! I have no idea why, but I pictured a trail? Obviously at different points the trail is wide, thin, rock and dirt but this was sure a shock, but an awesome one.

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The first day we only planned on walking a few miles. Stooges friend who was a little ahead of him told him that there was a sweet campsite not to far away. We got there checked out the campsite then decided we should head to the spring to fill up our bottles. It was only about 1.5 miles away from camp, so we all went to go check it out. About 2 miles in we realized it wasn’t looking so good. The blue blaze kind of ended… we thought maybe it dried out? After a bit more hiking we eventually we found it, Sir Stooge is a navigating machine! To fill the bottles we made some weird leaf waterfall/funnel it was really cool and just such a change from putting your cup against your fridge and having water coming out.

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When we got back to camp we decided to set up our tents before it got dark. While Stooge and Scuba set theirs up in about 2 min flat (Scuba hiked the AT last year and Stooge obviously has a ton of experience now) I was struggling to make mine look anything like a tent. In disappointment I took of sprinting into the woods. They found me about an hour later sitting against a tree. They asked me why I was crying to which I explained it was just water from the trees falling perfectly under my eyes. Stooge looked at me and said… Come back to camp and we will help you, you do not belong in solitude.

We got back to camp and collected a bunch of fire wood. We took turns getting the fire started while the other 2 ate some rice, peanut butter, protein bars, fruit and in Scubas case an entire box of nutty bars. I must say we created a raging fire!, So much that we burned through all the firewood way to quickly and ended up having to use flashlights to see but hey it was awesome while it lasted and kept the bugs away. We all hung out and talked for a while and before we knew it I was pretty late. We decided to turn in for the night.

Like I said these two are pretty experienced. I had a little bit of a weird night in my tent. I fell asleep instantly but I woke up to what I thought was my entire tent collapsed on me and I could barely move! After a minute of struggling and rolling all over the place I realized it was just the sleeping sack I went to bed in.. my tent was fine. I took a breath and shut my eyes. This is the point when I heard little animals running around and then voices. For some reason I thought there were witches outside the tent saying “Were going to get you paul!”. The pollen will get ya!

Morning came with rain. We packed our tents, had a light breakfast of some nuts, and the rest of the food our mom sent with me. At first I was a little bummed it was raining but it was actually awesome. Im glad I got to experience the conditions that Sir Stooge goes through while hes out there.

It was a great day of hiking. We made a few stops to snack and eat lunch throughout the day. One of the stops we actually got a chance to see a shelter. We hung out, all signed the book and got off our feet for a little bit.

We eventually made it to Port Clinton (where we parked ). Port Clinton is a very very small town, Their claim to fame is the barber shops $8 haircuts. We all jumped in the car and headed just up the road to Hamburg. Hamburg is a bigger town so we thought we could grab some food and get our hotel there so we could walk to the bars at night. We got some awesome food at arbys but were unlucky with the hotels. For some reason they were all booked so we found ourselves back in Port Clinton at the towns ALL IN ONE bar/restaurant/hotel. At night we all headed back to Hamburg to a bar. We crushed a ton of food, drank some beers, and played foosball and pool.

The next day was Sunday and Scuba and my last day with the Stooge. We decided we didn’t want to leave just yet so what we did was hike about 5 miles in with him knowing we would have to hike the 5 back to the car. Right when we got on the trail there was some trail magic! A bunch of sodas and a little note from the past AT Hiker. This was by far the hardest few miles I did. We basically walked up and down incredibly steep mountains. I was more tired in these few miles then I was the day before. The terrain was awesome and when we would hit the top of a mountain we sat and just looked out into the sky. We even saw a few hawks flying over us at one stop.

When we hit the end of mile 5 we all just sat down for a while and talked. I could tell none of us wanted the weekend to end.  It really sucked having to give him a hug and say bye but I knew I would make it out to see him again before he finished up and do this all over again.

When me and scuba made it back into town we stopped at the local fire house for a beer, pizza and conversation with the locals. Yes, Port Clinton has an oddly nice firehouse. Sir stooge said that there is only one firefighter and he just carries around a bottle of water ready for the day he needs to pore it on some flames. While there we actually had the chance to meet 2 other hikers that knew chris so that was really cool to hear.

Chris, thanks for an amazing weekend. I can honestly say I will never forget it and we both had such a good time hiking with you.

Just a few thoughts before solitaire signs off. I have no idea how chris does this every day. It was one of the hardest things ive ever done. The hiking, climbing, weather, sleeping and time it took to hike a single mile was something I was never expecting.

That being said, the trail was amazing! We hiked incredible rocky spots, muddy spots, overgrown spots, and steep spots.  We had a few amazing views, great talks, hilarious jokes and a ton of time to think and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way

Episode 2 of the adventures of solitaire and Stooge have now already happened. I will post a blog about my trip to Maine soon!

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