Yes. You are correct. I borrowed (stole) the title of this post from Bill Bryson’s epic tale of his attempted hike of the Appalachian Trail. According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy website that trail is 2,180 miles long (3500 kilometres for the Canadians in attendance) and is visited by some 2-3 million visitors each year. Many choose day, and multi-day, trips covering a portion of the trail while many others attempt to “thru-hike”. Yes, some super-fit, or completely insane, people actually hike the entire 3500 km’s. And if the statistics are correct, 1 out of every 4 hikers manage to accomplish the feat.
Early on in the book we are introduced to Bill’s buddy (Stephen) Katz who will be making the journey with him. I won’t go into the minuscule details about Katz’s colourful character though I would point out that Nick Nolte is playing him in the upcoming Hollywood production. Get it?
Tomorrow morning, along with my friend Nick, I will begin my own walk in the woods. Instead of the Appalachian we will hiking the Fundy Footpath, an un-groomed 50 km trail stretching from Alma to St Martins which comes complete with “100 metre cliffs, coastal climate variations” and at certain points, “no residences within 20 kilometres”. We are planning for 3 days and preparing for 4. It is an endurance test. Especially for someone who doesn’t hike. Me.
Packing for a lengthy hike is a delicate balancing act between necessity, comfort, and weight. In the Bryson novel Katz initially fills his backpack with an overabundance of supplies. Either preparing for a lifetime in the woods or perhaps armageddon
Without even looking, you could tell he was coming down sideways and with care, as if the steps were glazed with ice. He was wearing his pack. Things were tied to it all over–a pair of grubby sneakers and what looked like a pair of dress boots, his pots and pans, a Laura Ashley shopping bag evidently appropriated from my wife’s wardrobe and filled now with God knows what. – Bryson, A Walk in the Woods
Eventually Katz capitulates and empties the bulk of his supplies including his stash of Lil’ Debbie Cakes. While prepping last night I had the realization; I am Katz. Four complete breakfasts, five evening meals, lunches to see me through the next weekend, more granola bars then I can count, an extra large tarp, my high school yearbook (to reminisce in the evening), three pairs of shoes. I initially left out my tent though it turns out even Katz brought one along. Granola bars really seem to add weight and It was difficult to visit my basement and return with this pack on my back. Truthfully, the pack is still in my basement because it was easier going downstairs.
As if I needed it, I was able to make myself feel just a little more inadequate buy visiting a couple of local outdoors shops. Firstly, and not unlike Bryson during his preparation, I began to realize that I have no idea what most of the things in an outdoor shop actually do. What is a micro-fiber towel anyhow? I need another pair of hiking shoes? This type of tent isn’t for sleeping in? So many questions. Beyond the feeling of complete incompetence, however, is the obvious doubt cast upon me during one particular visit. Accompanied by an unintentionally disbelieving gaze the clerk asked; “So, do you actually do much hiking? You know, this trail is really difficult”. “My stairs were also difficult” I replied. This only heightened cause for concern.
I walked slowly to enjoy this freedom, and when I came out of the mountains, I saw the sky over the prairie, and I thought that if heaven was real, I hoped it was a place I never had to go, for this earth was greater than any paradise. – Daniel J Rice
We have been preparing for this trip for weeks now. Crosschecking lists. Purchasing pants and portable stoves. Counting calories of every meal with surgical precision. We are prepared. The plan is in now place. Goose River trail from point Wolfe to Goose River: 7.9 kms. Fundy footpath East from Goose River to Little Salmon River: 23.5 kms. Fundy Footpath West from Little Salmon to Big Salmon River: 17.9 kms. Deep fried clams at The Caves restaurant. Maybe beer too.
I’ve chatted with many folks who have completed this hike and each one of them reiterates how difficult it will be. I have no delusion that this we be anything but gruelling which brings me to my final point. Why? Why would anyone take this on? Why do 2-3 million people visit the Appalachian trail each year? When I was first asked this question I had no response though earnestly I am looking forward to this challenge. And a quick glance at the elevation changes we are facing indicates it will be a challenge.