“John Brown’s Body lies a moldering in the grave, John Brown’s Body lies a moldering in the grave, John Brown’s Body lies a moldering in the grave, His soul keeps marching on!”
My father and I drove to West Virginia three weeks after school had ended. A frantic three weeks-the first week I spent in Annapolis with those whose planes and plans were delayed. We played chess, listened to the Leadbelly Pandora Station, and tried to entertain one another–to some success. The last two weeks at home were a vague hibernation, punctuated by frantic attempts to plan my trip.
My logistics were supplied by a trip to a hunting outfitter outlet, Walmart and Food Lion. The outfitter had little offer, and what it did was overpriced. I bought: 2 Nalgenes, (which I would leave behind in Palmerton); a pack cover, or what could be called a water-resistant garbage bag with a brand name (not water-proof–there is a difference. It is like stainless steel. Stainless steel just stains less often than regular steel.); a bottle of camp shampoo, which I mistook for all-in-one camp suds; and a water pump. At Food Lion, I bought roughly 20 pounds of food, with amounts to about two weeks of food. 5 pounds of that was solely oatmeal. I learned the subtle shame and frustration that comes with hanging a food bag the size of a toddler from a tree. From Wal-Mart, I bought the item that brought me the most amount of ridicule, embarrassment, and weight. “Coleman is the world’s leading manufacturer of camping gear and outdoor equipment, including tents, lanterns, stoves, coolers and sleeping bags.” It doesn’t mention this, but it is also the cheapest. So I bought the smallest Coleman Stove. This behemoth used the ubiquitous green propane tanks in order to cook. This Coleman stove was an monument to my haste. With any forethought and research, I could have avoided my grave mistake.
To say the least, I was under-prepared and over-packed. My pack weighed roughly 55 pounds. I want to explain something briefly. My knowledge of hiking can be attributed to a 3 day trip with friends over spring break and a 42 day outdoor troubled boys’ program when I was 15. The boys’ program was in Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina. Briefly, the program believed it could cure boys’ of their addictions, depression, and anger by returning them to nature. It was a fantastic program, it really saved my life, but it was woefully underfunded. All of the money had to spent on insurance. Imagine 6-10 high-risk teenagers playing with fire and hiking on ridges. So with no money for the actual program, we were outfitted with hiking gear circa 1950. External frames, a seat belt sash ,a sleeping bag and a tarp. The night before I left with my dad to go to WV, I was optimistic. I had carried 55 pounds pack when I was younger, so why would it be any different now? Most of my hiking gear was leftover from this program: My backpack, boots, sleeping bag, and sleeping mat (This is a treasure of mine that was hanging in my apartment living room for a while). I had no idea the pain I was about to get into.
It is recommended that your backpack weigh 15-25 percent of your body weight. I was approaching 35%. I did not care though. I was riding on the pure excitement and anticipation of adventure. I was about to walk to New York. 350 miles. One month. In the mountains! That is 5 States! West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. That is one of the benefits of youth. I can make rash decisions, err, and pick myself up. The young body is still fresh and it can be beaten. It is the same impulse that sends my friends to war. We see a brief glimmering of nobility or truth and we throw ourselves into the depths of greater things, be it nature or war. Although, I am young enough at times, in dangerous lapses of thoughtlessness, to forget the sacrifices and the consequences of serious thought and action. And when I must bear the burden, the vitality of youth displays it’s power. Hiking is all material. The burden is literal. And the objects of the life of leisure–which allows for philosophy–have weight.
My father and I parked in the State Park just south of Harper’s Ferry. I stretched next to the car as he went to buy a parking pass. I looked at my pack. I tied my stove and my water bottles on the outside because they could not fit inside. It was hot. It would be hot all summer. And dry. My father returned without a pass. June 6th was National Trails Day, so parking was free. We set out on the trail that lead to the Appalachian Trail. We started to walk down a hill and then my stove bag swung around my pack into my face. I sounded like a tool box falling down a hill. We reached the Appalachian Trail itself and a freshly killed deer blocked our paths. I started my hike in a cloud of flies.