Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Hiking the Appalachian Trail: A Memory

Slim Jim looking toward Mt. Katadhin, August 1987

It’s a treat to wander through the north woods of Maine. The Appalachian Trail cuts through these forests, wanders around as many lakes as possible, and goes over as many of the mountains summits as possible. It’s the most isolated country in the Eastern United States with one stretch of over a hundred miles where you have don’t cross a paved highway. This is no place to get sick. But one afternoon, a bug hit me. Maybe I forgot to treat some water, I’m not sure, but for a couple of days I was glad there were plenty of bushes to hide behind.

At the time, I was hiking with several friends I’d made along the trail. There was Slim Jim from Florida, he’d just turned 21. “Off-shore Steve,” was a commercial fisherman who’d hiked the entire length of the trail the year before and had come back to hike Maine with his sidekick, an old guy named with a snoring problem named Chainsaw. If you were camping near Chainsaw, you didn’t have to worry about bears at night; he scared them away. And then there were the two Brits, good old boys from Merry Ole England. Dave was a serious hiker. His side kick, Paul, would often find a way to hitchhike ahead and be waiting in camp for us with a few cans of beer. As we got further into Maine, it was becoming harder for him to hitchhike, for even when there were roads, there were few cars.

On the afternoon in question, several of us had eaten lunch together. When everyone else headed out, I decided to hang back and spend some time in my favorite recliner (leaning up against my pack) reading Frederick Buechner's Treasure Hunt. After an hour or so, I headed off, knowing I’d catch them at camp which was planned for a shelter and spring on the north side of Sugarloaf Mountain.

The bug struck as I reached the first switchback up Sugarloaf Mountain. I quickly dropped my pack and trotted off the trail and behind some bushes. Afterwards, I felt faint and chilled. I found a large flat rock, place my pack on it, pulled a sweater on and lay down with the pack as a pillow and slept. An hour or so later, I woke up. Slowly standing, I felt both tired and unsteady, but knew I needed to make it to camp, a mile or so on the other side of the summit. The mountain appeared daunting, but I had no choice but to go forward. I prayed for God to give me the strength, to let me get to my friends where I could die with dignity.

I carried a small portable radio in my pack. It ran off a single double-A battery and had a lightweight ear piece. I had mainly used the radio to check weather, but this afternoon, felt it might take my mind off my troubles. As I hiked, I searched for a station and finally came upon one in Bangor Maine that was playing classic rock. “The police in New York City shot a boy right through the heart, in a case of mistaken identity…” I started humming to “Heartbreaker” by the Rolling Stones. They went on to play a set that ended with “Satisfaction.” Listening and humming, I picked up my pace and in no time was across the mountain and heading downhill toward camp.

That evening after a dinner of Mac and Cheese, I took out my journal and wrote that Mick Jagger and the Stone’s had helped me get over the mountain. I went to bed early. In the wee hours of the next morning, with my stomach still churning, I woke up to a horrible realization. I remembered my prayer of the precious afternoon, where I asked God to help me get over the mountain. I’d given the credit due God to a rock band. Then I headed out into the dark of the night, to find a bush.

Looking back on it, twenty year later, I realize that God does work in mysterious ways, even through a rock singer with ugly lips.


  1. I would love to have a hiking experience like that, or any other for that matter (just without the 'bug' part)...maybe someday.

    Although I guess it is good to have a moment of regret for not initially recognizing that God got you through the moment when you asked for help, it seems that He created us all with our talents to donate to others, even if it is just a rock star. Do you suppose like we should not take the glory on ourselves when we know our contributions changed an outcome (like in a work situation, you enable a co-worker to solve a problem, leading to that co-workers great recognition), instead-feel great for the emplyee, and just get great satifaction on an inner personal level...(knowing that someday that co-worker may remember you actually helped make that happen)that God could smile to Himself knowing He made that happen...and that you will remember His contribution-even if it takes a bit of time?

  2. You should have found some Creedence to listen too. Maybe you could have found the "bathroom on the right"!

    P.S. Good choice of literature for a hike!

  3. Murf, explain.

    Anonymous: I think we need more humility in our world. It is always better for others to give us credit than for us to claim it for ourselves. A rock star wouldn't know me from Adam, but God can work through such a person to bring about good.

    Ed, Didn't they sing "Bad Moon Rising?" On the Road and Dharma Bums were both great reads. Later, on my one and only cruise, I read a novel of Kerouac's tragedic life.

  4. God indeed has strange ways. Lucky for you to have found him in the unlikeliest of places.

    BTW, I am back to commenting as blogger is kind to let me do so for a while!!

  5. Yeah I was referring to Bad Moon Rising which is often misunderstood to be "bathroom on the right" instead of "bad moon on the rise".

  6. That photo is spectacular - I look forward to experiencing a small part of the AT this fall in the Berkshires. And who says Mick's lips are ugly? :-)

  7. I think this story could easily be made into a movie. Kinda like Alive, without the eating of other people.

    PS: I copied one of your post ideas. The tour around the blogosphere. Because I liked it. And I'm unoriginal. Hope you don't mind.

  8. Gautami, God likes the wilderness too! Glad blogger is giving you a bit of a break.

    Ed, that's the music of my generation and I didn't know that, learn something new every day. Thanks!

    Diane, I suppose I'm not a good judge of guy lips. I do hope you get to hike some on the AT in Mass--when you are heading north, Mt. Graylord is the first big mountain the AT crosses since
    Virginia. Also, you begin to cross the first of the ponds/lakes that you throughout New England.

    Bone, I was often hungry on the trail, but never that hungry. Did you see my review of the book "In the Heart of the Sea" in which the whale boat crew ate others to survive? I liked you blog tour!

  9. Thanks for sharing that story. It is neat to hear how God works and meets our needs.

  10. Sage: A GREAT post, as always. I have been told by one of my brothers to relocate to Maine. I know it is beautiful. You have reminded me to read "on the Road". I tend to read Bios. Also, yes! The Stones are better than ever. Keith Richards is amazing!

  11. Another great read. Glad to hear you made it through a tough time of a hike.

    And what an exceptional photo. It must have been breathtaking country to hike.

  12. Hey, I gonna show my wife this post, because she makes fun of me for saying that the guys at "Pimp My Ride" do God's work.

  13. FINALLY....a book we have BOTH read. I have read Kerouac's "On the Road." lit class in college!

    I would like to explore more of the Appalacian Trail.

  14. Mick Jagger lips bad.

    Steven Tyler lips good.

    Go figure…