Names

Jason.  Jay.  Jase.  Junior.  Skippy Junior.  Billy Ray.  Sled Dog.  Asshole.  I have a lot of names.  It seems every chapter of my life has a different name associated with it.

Early Years

My name is Jason.  Obviously.  So the easy nicknames are Jay or Jase.  People are lazy, so they shorten it.  Because two syllables is one too many, I guess.  Either way, they do not bother me, and I still answer to them.

My dad has always called me Junior, which my grandfather (his dad) did, as well.  So when I got to high school, at which my dad was a teacher, my peers picked up on it and started calling me Skippy Junior.  You guessed it, my dad’s name is Skip.  They did it to tease me, but he had been calling me Junior for so long that it really did not bother me.

Scout Camp

When I was a Senior in high school, I started working at a Boy Scout summer camp, running the C.O.P.E. Course.  Essentially, a rappelling tower, low ropes and high ropes courses.  My first summer there, for whatever reason, my area director started calling me Billy Ray.  It is from the movie Trading Places, with Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd, where two of the main characters have the below dialog:

“Looking good, Billy Ray?”

“Feeling good, Louis.”

This became our code for checking on the status of whatever task we were doing, without letting the scouts know we were up to something.  If something was not quite right, the response would be something other than “Feeling Good” and assistance would be on its way.  Other staff picked up on it, and to this day, there are “camp friends” that call me Billy Ray.

Bike Club

While I was a prospect (something similar to being a pledge for a fraternity) for my motorcycle club, I was invited to a Christmas party in Cleveland.  I started my drive about 0600, just as the snowflakes started to fall.  And fall they did.  This was the winter of multiple blizzards, apparently.  What should have been a 5- or 6-hour drive turned into a 12-hour drive.  I pulled into the party just as it was starting, to find my president outside trying to call me.  He stood next to my car for a few minutes, until I decided to get out.  When I slammed the door, about 8” of slush fell from the doors, bumpers, and wheels, revealing my car.  My president did not recognize my car until that point.

Later that winter, I was “patched in” as a full member.  Along with my center patch, I was given my club name, aptly chosen as Sled Dog.  To this day, every time it snows, I am handed the keys.  Gotta love a Michigan childhood.

SledDog_small

Trail Name

For the most part, all of my nicknames have been “given” or, dare I say, earned.  So with that mindset, I have decided to not assume any sort of trail name until I have been given one by my fellow hikers.  I am in no hurry to discover another one of my hidden personalities.

I would love to hear your nicknames, and the stories behind them!  If you care to share, post a comment below or use the Contact Me page up top, along with any comments, advice, or topic suggestions.  If I get a good amount of them, I will post them here for everyone to enjoy.

Until next time, remember to “Spin the Compass.”

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Book Review: Barefoot Sisters Walking Home

BarefootSistersWalkingHome

DISCLAIMER:  I bought my copy of this ebook with my own paycheck.  The following post is my own opinion and not one spoon-fed to me.

The next book on my proverbial shelf to be reviewed is Barefoot Sisters Walking Home by Lucy “Isis” and Susan “jackrabbit” Letcher.  This book is a follow up to their popular first, Barefoot Sisters Southbound.  (If you did not read my review of that, you can see it here.)  This second book follows the two sisters home during the summer of 2001, after they completed their southbound thru-hike, took a couple of weeks off, and then decided to walk the trail home instead of buying a used car as planned.

The writing style is nearly exact to the first book, with the two authors taking turns writing about their experiences.  Similarly, the story flows smoothly and quickly as they cover the nearly 2,200 miles back home.  It was especially entertaining to read about the differences between their two thru-hikes, and to watch as they further cultivate friendships and acquaintances that were first made on their southbound journey.  They even touched on what it was like to be on the trail during the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and how it affected the trail experience.  Each author’s separate personality really shines through, and each acknowledges strengths and weaknesses within themselves… and each other.  Reading the two books so close together made them seem like one long story that was broken into two volumes, rather than two completely different books.  That said, they could each be read independently, with little loss in storyline.  By the end of this second book, I felt like I was right there with them, sharing the same scary storms and funny happenings, and like the first book, I had a hard time putting the Kindle down.

I highly recommend the book, if for no other reason than it is a good, entertaining read that is well-written and filled with humor, drama, insight and perspective, along with stunningly detailed descriptions of the flowers, towns and people they encountered.  I would easily read any book by this pair… perhaps of the Pacific Crest Trail or some other adventure completely.

I would love to hear from you, whether it is about this book or another one you recommend.  Please send me a comment below, or use the Contact Me page up top.

Until next time, remember to “Spin the Compass.”

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More Updates

I recently went home to Michigan to visit my parents, turning a short vacation for my motorcycle club into a week-long trip.  Yes, Michigan is my home.  Maryland is my residence.  Deal.  During this trip, I was able to relax, think… and let my parents know about my plans for the trail.  Here are a few updates from the past few weeks.

Notifications

They have been made to all immediate family members, and all reactions were pretty much on par with what I had predicted they would be.  Mom freaked out, but was supportive in the end.  Dad was quiet and contemplative, but supportive.  Sister was excited about the new adventure.

I had planned to tell everyone separately, which worked out nicely.  When I got home, dad was on his way to a wedding, so mom and I went to dinner together.  (Hello, Bennigan’s Monte Cristo samich!)  She could tell I had something on my mind, so about halfway through the meal, I broke it to her.  Her response was priceless.  Staring at me with a wide-eyed, scared look on her face, she simply stated, “That was not what I thought you were going to say.”  Then we laughed.  But we discussed it a little while we finished eating, and by the end of the meal, I had her on board.  “While it’s nothing I would ever try to do, I think it’s great that you are even going to try this and I support you.  I’ll be worried out of my mind for six months, but I support you.”  Thanks, mom!

A day later, dad and I went across the state to fish for salmon in Lake Michigan with an old friend.  While the fishing was slow, a day out on the unusually calm water when I should have been in planning meetings at work was the best Monday I have ever spent!  On the ride home, I took the opportunity to tell dad.  His first words: “Cool.  So are you telling me so I can tell your mother?”  Good thought, dad, but mom would kill me if I did that.  Actually, I think his initial reaction was a bit more shocked than mom’s, but also a bit quicker at accepting.  After all, dad was my hiking partner during two Philmont treks all those years back, so he has an idea of what to expect, and having two knee replacements himself, he can somewhat understand the urgency at which this life goal needs to be met.  By the end of the day, I had his support, too.  Thanks, dad!

Not wanting to wait until August (my next visit to good ol’ NYC), I decided to simply email my sister.  She is busy with her Manhattan job and an almost-three year old with ENDLESS energy, so email has always been our form of communication, allowing us to talk when it is convenient to each of our individual schedules.  She responded back a few hours later with more excitement than I expected, but with all the support and enthusiasm I have come to expect from her.  And a dozen questions, also expected.  Love you sis!

I still need to tell the motorcycle club, and I would like to tell a few close friends before just blasting the announcement to social media.  And I cannot forget the bosses.  I know there are a lot of questions coming, as people research what this all means – let’s face it, I gave my family a lot to digest real quick.  But all in all, I will mark “notifications” as mostly completed.

(UPDATE:  When I originally wrote this post a few weeks ago, this last statement was accurate.  However, after spending this past weekend with the bike club, I realize that I have quite a few more notifications to make.  I have at least a dozen or so friends that I want to tell in person, and not via social media… so for now, “notifications” are only partially completely…)

<phew>  Now that all of THAT is done, now I can start worrying about other things.  Like sleeping bags and backpacks and footwear.  Definitely footwear.

To NOBO or To SOBO… that is the question.

I know I have discussed which direction would work out best for me before, but there are some new issues that weigh in the decision, so I need to talk it out.  Lucky you.

For whatever reason, I still have the urge to just declare I am doing a Maine to Georgia hike.  There is something that is very appealing about the solitude, the difficulty, and the later start.  Mostly the solitude, I think.

That said, I have been informed that the summer event I will be coming off trail for is not in the middle of July, but rather the end of June.  So the debate is now do I start whenever Baxter State Park opens, and only hike a week or two before leaving the trail, or do I wait until the beginning of July to start, if I chose to do a SOBO hike?

If I decide to go north, I could start earlier, and get a good chunk of the hike done before coming off the trail, making it a mini-vacation (yes, a vacation from vacation…).  If I hike north, though, I will be forced to miss the May event that I had wanted to attend.  If I can only do one event, I would choose the mid-summer one.  The club will understand.  So maybe that is a moot point.

I am still very torn on which direction to go, but ultimately, I feel that the “logical” choice now is to start early and hike north with the crowd.  I am not sure how I feel about this yet, as I tend to like my own space.  Yes, I have a tent… and plan to use it!

Gym

In an effort to increase my fitness level, and since I seem to be at a constant loss for time to get out into the woods, I have started attending the gym more frequently.  By “started”, I mean the last week or two, so please do not applaud too loudly.  But I have already noticed a difference in my knee.  It is not really a matter of strength yet, but in movability.  I think the added movement is helping to keep things loose, which in turn is making my leg feel better than it has in a while.  As a bonus, the gym has a lap pool, so every other day or so, I get in and swim some, which is great for my knee and for my cardio, not to mention negating some of the heat we have been dealing with on the East coast.

I am also looking into starting a yoga routine.  My P.T.A. suggested this before I was discharged from her facility, but I did not put much thought into it at the time.  Back then, I had a hard enough time just walking up stairs.  But now, I feel I need to take a more active approach to keeping my strength and my flexibility at top notch.  I already do some minor stretching in the morning, before getting out of bed, but I think adding yoga will help even more.  If anyone has suggestions on a good DVD or instructor in the area, please comment below and let me know!

My fortune cookie says I am doing ok!

My fortune cookie says I am doing ok!

Freaky Finances

I would be lying if I said everything was moving along completely smoothly.  In all honestly, I am having mini- (and not-so-mini-) freak out sessions about twice a week, mostly over the finances of this whole thing.  It is no secret I am not the best with money, but I see the list of items I still do not have and the quickly depleting bank account, and I worry that the funds will not be there to support this whole thing.  I am sure it is just me stressing, and money is the easiest thing to focus that stress on, but for now, it is my demon.

I have already cut back on a lot of extraneous spending, and have a few more things in mind to cut out.  And since I know I will be putting everything into a storage garage for this, I am starting to go through things to see what I can sell off.  No need to store an old tv that is large and heavy – might only get $50 for it, but then I will not have to store it.  So I am trying to work through this.  Deep breathing is important.

So things are progressing, just slower than I had expected.  I am sure when fall and winter hit, and my schedule gets a little less hectic, planning will kick into high gear.  If you have any comments, advice, or topic suggestions, please use the comment box below or use the Contact Me page up top.

Until next time, remember to “Spin the Compass.”

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Appalachian Trials Lists

While reading the book Appalachian Trials, by Zach Davis,  (see my Book Review here!) one of the big items Zach writes about and stresses is mentally preparing yourself to answer the “why am I doing this?” that will seep into your head when things get tough, boring, or painful.

“If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.” Yogi Berra

To focus on this, he suggests (more like demands!) that you create three lists.  These lists are created to remind and reinforce your “reasons” for hiking the trail, and will be extremely helpful when you have struggles on trail… and everyone will have some struggles on the trail.  By reviewing these lists during low points, you will hopefully be reminded of why you are out there to begin with, and be motivated to continue to pursue that purpose.  I plan to review them from time to time in an attempt to minimize my low points.

Zach also encourages (again, more like demands…) that you make these lists public, so that others can help keep you accountable to them.  It is much harder to forget (or ignore) something that lots of others know about.  So with that in mind, here are my three lists:

I Am Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail Because…

  • I have wanted to do it since I first learned of the trail.
  • My life needs a “restart”.
  • I need to reevaluate my life, my career, my choices, my direction.
  • Where I am is not where I want to be.
  • I am almost 37 years old, I already have arthritis, and according to Dr. K, it is only going to get worse for me.  It is “now or never”, more or less.
  • I want to do something wild and outrageous, with no regrets, just once in my life.
  • I have the rest of forever to be lazy.
  • I am tired of being lazy.
  • To prove to myself that I can.
  • I have a lot of gear and need to use it more.

When I Successfully Complete the Appalachian Trail, I Will…

  • Have found a deeper respect and confidence in myself and my abilities than I have ever had.
  • Have found a direction for my life and the momentum to continue forward.
  • Have one amazing story (or a million small ones…).
  • Be one B.A.M.F. who can accomplish anything he sets his mind to.
  • Have a great excuse to get another tattoo!

If I Give Up on the Appalachian Trail, I Will…

  • Never believe in myself.
  • Feel like a complete failure.
  • Have to face my parents, my friends, and my coworkers, and explain why I quit.
  • Be lazy for the rest of my life.
  • Regret it.

These lists are still evolving, and I am sure will continue to change even after my hike starts.  Perhaps I will repost a more finished version just before my hike, but for not, they are public.  If you have any comments, advice, or topic suggestions, please use the comment box below or use the Contact Me page up top.

Until next time, remember to “Spin the Compass.”

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Distractions

I have a confession to make – I have been struggling with keeping all of this at the top of the priority list lately.  Pushing the big pause button on life and walking off into the woods seems like it would be such an easy proposition, but the reality, at least for me, is that there is a shit-ton of stuff to be done long before I can just walk away.  And keeping all of that on the “To Do” list, along with life’s everyday tasks, is often a daunting task.  As much as I may like to, I cannot simply put life on hold right now to be able to plan out putting life on hold next year.

I will be the first to admit that I am a collector of hobbies.  I love to learn, and dive head-first into whatever new skill I am learning, both mentally and financially.  However, I also have a bad habit of jumping from hobby to hobby, never truly honing one skillset to perfection before rushing into the next one.  I nearly always circle back around to each one, eventually, but typically not frequently enough to be worthwhile.  An old friend used to laugh at the cyclical nature of my hobby jumping, even predicting when I would revisit certain hobbies within the annual seasons.  This has always been a struggle for me, one for which I am hoping the trail will help me resolve.

Water, Water, Everywhere…

My latest struggle stems from needing some other form of exercise to get into shape, but without overworking my knee in the process.  I am currently taking long walks through town or hikes up the mountain as often as I can, but I am not to a point where I can do this on a daily basis.  My knee strength is returning, but it is not 100% yet.  I stress YET.  Even if strength were top-notch, walking town gets boring (and dangerous… Maryland drivers are some of the worst…)  In a search for something to cross train with, I come across an old summer camp favorite – kayaking.  At first, I was only interested in flat water, recreational kayaking, but the more I have looked into it, getting into whitewater kayaking sounds just as fun, and even more exciting.  But I know nothing about whitewater, and to be safe about it, would need at least one or two classes.  I want to hike next year, not drown this year.  The physical and mental benefits of kayaking – either on flat water or white water – are immense.  Great cardio.  Upper body strength.  Flexibility.  Balance.  The cooling effects of water in this blazing heat.  And hardly any knee function required, which would make it a great exercise in between more leg-intensive days.

Nice and peaceful.  Source:  Facebook.

Nice and peaceful. Source: Facebook.

The flip side of all of this is that it is money I do not need to be spending right now.  I am going to have zero income very quickly, and while I have already started to watch my spending, I know I need to get a tighter grip on it.  Like a strangle-hold grip.  So unless Dagger Kayaks wants to donate a boat to my rehabbing, I will continue to do my best to avoid this hobby… for now.  Post-trail, watch out!

Ok, maybe not THIS whitewater… Source: Facebook.

Ok, maybe not THIS whitewater… Source: Facebook.

I am NOT an Ambulance Driver!

If you did not know, I am a volunteer medic. Technically, I am a National Registry Paramedic, and a Maryland-certified Cardiac Rescue Technician.  Semantics.  I am a medic.  Essentially, emergency medicine is just another hobby that I allowed to get out of control.  It is one of the reasons I am divorced.  It also was partly responsible for saving me from the depression and boredom that followed said divorce, so I suppose it is ailment and cure, all at once.  I really enjoy riding the ambulance, providing care to those in need, and being there to help people through their worst day.  I am not the type of volunteer that wants all the bells, whistles, flashers and sirens on my vehicle.  I do not load up my uniform belt like Batman.  I do not do it to get my name in the paper.  There is nothing wrong with those that do, but none of that is my driving motivation.  For me, it is about being helpful, being useful, having purpose.

Source:  Internet.

Source: Internet.

Unfortunately, being a medic takes time.  Lots and lots of time.  Recertification every other year.  CPR certification refresher every year.  Protocol updates every year.  Specialty certifications like Advance Cardiac Life Support and Pediatric Advanced Life Support, which tend to be scheduled with career medics in mind, not volunteers.  Regional training and refresher courses.  And that is just the training.  Keep in mind, I am a volunteer, which means I also work a 40-hour-per-week job so that I can pay my bills.

Source:  Facebook.

Source: Facebook.

Then there are the actual station shifts – usually 12 hours at a time, sometimes 24.  I sign up for a 12 hour overnight shift every Thursday night.  Sometimes I help cover a weekend shift.  My region runs Advanced Life Support as a chase car system – a glorified Ford Expedition that follows the ambulance to the scene, and then the medic either rides to the hospital on the ambulance, if needed, or returns to the station if the patient is a Basic Life Support patient.  Therefore, ALS and BLS shifts are done separately, via different stations, so those shifts get added on top of my normal shifts.

There are lots of other opportunities to utilize your training, most of which are quite enjoyable.  The annual county fair needs on-site EMS.  Fourth of July and other specialty events.  I regularly volunteer with my local minor league baseball team, an affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles.  We do not get paid for our service, but we do get a small meal voucher.  Plus, we get to watch (bad) baseball, put bandaids on skinned knees, and talk to friends and coworkers.  While some games are stressful and busy, most are relaxed and entertaining.

Ok, so I am driving an ambulance here.  Just do not call me an ambulance driver.

Ok, so I am driving an ambulance here. Just do not call me an ambulance driver.

It all takes time.  Time that probably should be devoted to training and reading and prepping for this massive undertaking I am attempting.  But I have a hard time saying ‘no’ to the activities that have defined my summers for a long time.  Like I said, it is something I am struggling with, but I am not giving up.  Not by a long shot.  Hiking this entire trail is something I want to accomplish more than pretty much anything else… I just need to keep reminding myself of that.

I am taking a road trip this weekend to go to a reputable outfitter for some advice on packs, boots/shoes, and sleeping bags.  REI has been great for items that I have done my research on, but some of the advice I have been given goes against everything I have read from people who actually hike.  I realize that sometimes the “college kids” need to be trained using a video, but if they want to be taken seriously, perhaps some of that training should be in the woods actually using the products they are trying to sell.  Ok, rant over.  Hopefully this trip will be fruitful and worthwhile.  More on that in a later post…

I welcome any tips you may have for staying “motivated” for the training aspect of all of this.  If you have any comments, advice, or topic suggestions, please use the comment box below or use the Contact Me page up top.

Until next time, remember to “Spin the Compass.”

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