Kevin Walls got his trail name today. This is apparently something everyone does when through-hiking the Appalachian Trail. You can't give it to yourself, it must be earned. And only after a little while on the trail. For the next one thousand-nine hundred miles or so, he'll be known to his compatriots as 'Tower.' He's something like 6-foot-5, so it's appropriate. Apparently he also has an affinity for a hilltop fire tower that he came across as well, so I guess that makes sense.
Kevin left West Chester and the comforts of his new-to-him apartment - where he lives with my little sister (they're a cute couple) - for the wilderness of the Appalachian Trail. Kevin will be walking roughly the same distance that Mia, Clint and I sailed from St. Pierre to Ireland last summer, or a little over 2,000 miles. Did I mention he was walking?!
In sailing, it's bad luck to talk about a destination. Instead, we mention that we're only heading 'towards' some place over the horizon, consciously allowing for a sudden change of weather, change in heart or some other unforseen happenstance. We're not tempting fate by declaring something that hasn't happened yet. I'll do the same for Kevin - he set out from Springer Mountain, Georgia on March 20th, and his walking towards Mt. Katahdin in northern Maine. He hopes to get there in four or five months time, while the weather up there is still warm enough to enjoy it. My Dad likes to joke that he should have started in Maine - that way he could walk downhill all the way.
I won't quote it, but he sent me and my family a very heartfelt email the morning of his departure (March 19th), thanking us for his support, which I found very touching (thanks Kev!). He might not know it, but I'm Kevin's biggest fan. Reading my sister's blog this morning (she's keeping track of him and writing updates based on his phone calls to her), I really found myself envying him out there on the trail, the freedom the he has and the adventure he is currently undertaking. Not something he is looking forward to at some unknown time in the future, but doing now, in the present. Does he realize it yet? Has it sunk in? According to Kate, he had a cold, rainy night in his single-person tent a few nights ago, so he probably does.
He's keeping a journal online, but it hasn't been updated since March 22. At the time, his uncle Bob was with him, along with Bob's dog Spirit. They drove Kevin down to the start, and hung out for the first bit. I heard Bob bailed when it got rainy...sissy (actually I think he's done the trail himself several times, so I'll rescind that). Here's a little bit of what Kevin had to say, right after his adventure began. It's un-edited and exactly as it appears on his site:
"I woke up to a light rain and tried to get Spirit in my tent since she couldn't fit in Uncle Bobs bivy. Luckily the rain stopped and she didn't want to come in. The weather report was for thunderstorms the next few days. We packed up, got water and hiked a mile or so to Gooch Mountain shelter where we met Deerpath, a 68 year old from FL whose posts I had seen on whiteblaze.net. We also saw the guy hiking to NOC who uncle bob called weatherman. We had breakfast at the shelter and used The facilities (each shelter has a privy). Just as we were about to leave it started raining and we hiked in the rain for 5-6 miles to Woody gap. It was here that uncle bob caught a ride to neel gap and called it a trip. With the weather report not looking good he decided it would be better not to camp in the rain. Him and spirit got a ride with the first car he talked to and soon I was alone! Only 20 miles into the trip I realized that I would be on my own For the rest of the trip and I sat at the gap for a while and let it sink in. The weatherman came up later and decided to call his trip off too. Only one night of rain and he ended his 130 mile section after 20 miles, but there's always next year and he can pick up where he left off after making some adjustments. I called Kaitie and updated my journal and moved on. I bumped into Pippy and Peppy for the second time. They were former marathoners and canoe marothoners and I asked if they were father/daughter, but that's the last time I'll make assumptions cause they were engaged. Luckily they weren't upset and said they've gotten that before. I got water and camped at the next place to stop, just before lance creek and the 5 mile boundary where you can only camp if you have a bear canister. I setup camp by myself and soon saw Pippy and peppy think about stopping but decided to move on. I had the whole area to myself and watched the sun set over the mountains while I ate dinner. Day number 3 was over and I had no idea what would be next."
Day number 3...of 150? 180? The neat thing about Kevin's expedition is the duration of it. Our crossing in earnest - the longest bit offshore, not including our stops up the northeast coast in Newport and Nova Scotia - was 23 days. It felt like a heck of a long time at the time - especially during those nights of calms, when the boat was thrashing about so violently on a bumpy, windless sea, all the pots and pans rattling around in their lockers, the motion throwing us out of our beds - but in hindsight, it was a blink of an eye. We put so much effort and energy into getting the boat ready, rushing off on July 4 (and forgetting the charts in the process), and finishing boat projects the whole way to Canada that we never had a chance to reflect until it was behind us. It was 'GO! GO! GO!' for two and half years. And then it was over. The entire voyage, from setting out from Annapolis until we hauled the boat out in Bangor was less than three months.
When Kevin is three months in, he'll still have a ways to go. He'll have more opportunity to bail out (he better not!) given his land-bound circumstances. And he'll probably have those same kinds of nights like we had, wet in his tent, cold and missing Kate and his family, and he'll be thinking that he has so much farther to go. In the big picture, he won't, and I hope he realizes that now, really cherishes every moment, good and bad, every miserably wet and windy night, every crappy bowl of ramen he eats.
I didn't feel like it was necessary to write about Kevin's actual trip on the ground in this space - he's doing plenty of that himself, on his Trail Journals website (here), and what Kevin doesn't say, Kate updates on her own website, which is where I get a lot of my info (and the photos that Kevin sent her that make up the banner and the background to the site today. See more photos at Kate's website). But I felt like I had to comment on his journey and wish him luck (and consciousness, in the philosophical sense) along the way.
In a time in my family where thinking about the big picture in life is the last thing we all want to do, and living in the moment is literally the only thing my Mom can do right now given her mental state, it's inspiring to see Kevin out there living a dream of his. I'm sure he's torn a bit not being able to be home and support Kate, but I really believe that what he's doing is the best support he can give. He's standing up for what he believes in and living his life to the fullest, while he can, and I hope my little sister takes some inspiration from that. I can't wait to hear his stories when he gets back, and yet I won't wish the time away while he's out there. I hope it feels long for him, because when it's over, it's over.
Take every second and enjoy it with your eyes open Kev. And don't let the bears eat your food.