“I started the Appalachian Trail on Friday. It goes from Georgia to Maine. It’s absolutely amazing!! I’m tremendously grateful to God for the blessed life I lead. Thanks so much for all your kindness and support! Enjoy your summers and be sure to keep in touch!” (JD Shaeffer, Facebook.com)
J.D. is still “pinching himself” because he can’t believe he set this terribly lofty cool goal and is now actually doing it. He called me yesterday, Sunday, and reported some surprising stuff about fellow hikers, sleeping accomodations, and mental adjustments.
The long distance hiker culture is full of friendliness and acceptance. “I have met some really cool people on the trail already!” J.D. continued to tell me about “Yak”, “Taters,” “Beats Working,” and his wife “Little Engine.” On long distance trails, hikers go by a trail name that is given to them by another hiker. J.D.’s trail name is “Gigante” (“Giant” in Spanish, pronounced “Higante”), which Duncan gave him on the Pacific Crest Trail 2 years ago. Yak is a buff military dude traveling with 6 other men. They are all nice and friendly. Taters got his name when someone on the trail noticed he loves to eat potatoes. J.D. has appreciated the southern Christian couple Beats Working (a cop) and Little Engine (an EMT nurse) because they have been open about talking with J.D. about God, which he was craving. The hikers seem to be automatic family. They give each other food, camp together, share life stories with each other, encourage each other, and are sharing strains and joys with each other. J.D. is a social creature and enjoys meeting new people everyday.
J.D. has started the trail slow, increasing the miles hiked each day to avoid injury, his problematic ankle being the greatest concern. The first day J.D. hiked 10 miles. Next 13 and Sunday 15 miles. His ankle feels GREAT and he hasn’t been sore at all, which is a result of his thorough training, I am sure. Today he plans to hike 18. He hopes to average about 25 miles a day, with many marathon days to come. The first night J.D. decided to sleep in a shelter. There are many of these structures along the way, cabins without a front wall. The first shelters he has seen are 2 stories high because of a loft (wooden floor) above the main cavity. There are no mattresses, of course. Mice are a problem in shelters. Yak (sleeping in the loft with J.D.) forgot a bag of oranges in his pack outside the first night and the whole group woke up to loud nibbling noises. They all shouted together to scare the mice away so Yak could rescue what was left of his damaged pack and food. The second night J.D. set up in the loft of another shelter, but after hearing scuttling mice even before he fell asleep, he set up his tent a bit off the trail instead. It rained that night and his tent held up well. It has proven to be a tad short, but J.D. is just making the most of it.
Surprisingly, he had eaten all his food by the time he got to his first opportunity to re-supply: a small store “Mountain Crossing” that the trail passes THROUGH! He bought all that he needed including a frozen pizza that they baked for him (a service they provide for hikers). J.D. is starting to feel a mental shift. “I have to eat to survive,” he told me on the phone. “This part of our country is beautiful! I LOVE hiking!” But, J.D. was sad to miss attending church yesterday. He has debated the pros and cons in his head all over again, while on the trail, but must rely on the decision he made through the guidance of the Holy Ghost months ago. His faith in many things are growing even stronger.
His favorite food that he can carry on the trail so far is Nutty Buddy Chex Mix. His advise for us is, “Don’t just endure the journey. Enjoy the journey.”
Happy Trails, Gigante!
Sources: J.D. has a friend who hiked the A.T. last summer. His blog is HERE.