The First Days

Kait and I really don’t know what we are doing out here.  We thought we were well-prepared.  Even other thru-hikers told us we had done a great job of researching and planning.  I think they might have been taking us for a ride.

Our first steps.

I had this romantic notion of how our first moments on the beach would be: With our toes in the Atlantic, we would stand and take a moment to contemplate the path we had taken to get there, and the enormity of what lay ahead of us.  Perhaps I would say a little prayer, or write something in the sand as a gift to the ocean.  But standing there, my feet getting soaked with salty spray, all I could think of was how heavy my pack was and how much pain I was already in – and I hadn’t even taken a step.

Because of budgetary limitations and a basic lack of experiential knowledge of what to pack when crossing a continent by foot, Kait and I began our walk carrying packs that were dangerously heavy.  It was so bad that we opted to leave the laptop and my backpacker’s guitar behind before we even got the packs on our backs.  I had a chuckle back when Tyler told me about his 90 lb. starting pack weight, but I really didn’t do any better.  Poor Kait was even worse off, but we simply had to start walking.  Her parents, who had driven us to the coast, wished us well and tearfully left us to deal with our new lifestyle.

About three miles into our walk, we stopped to eat lunch in a park in Lewes, Delaware.  All I could think about was the weight of my pack.  How could it be so heavy?  What had I done wrong?  While I pondered, curious strangers wandered up to our silly-looking group to ask what we were doing.  Apparently, we didn’t look dirty enough to be homeless.  A woman named Amy came over and asked a lot of questions about the dogs, and eventually offered to give us a ride or a place to stay if we needed it.  We declined the offer, but gave her our card with website and contact info.

As I was eating my leftover bagel, my phone rang.  Nate Damm, who walked the American Discovery Trail last year and had offered us useful planning advice, was calling to see if we had hit the trail on schedule.  He had been kind enough to call ahead to a family in Milton who had hosted him early in his walk.  He gave me a name and a phone number and told me that they were expecting us.  I called Serenda, and she extended the offer personally.

We kept walking.

Within the first 10 miles of our walk we were offered rides, places to stay, and donations by at least half a dozen kind people.  We had heard about generosity on the trail, but this seemed too good to be true.  All the while, our backs were screaming and nothing felt right.  We all but collapsed around mile 8, wondering if we should give up there and make camp for the night.  Then, the trail magic started.  Amy pulled up – she had been looking for us – and offered another ride.  We hatched a plan and I went with Amy to drop our backpacks off at Serenda’s house.  I scouted out the route ahead, and by the time Amy dropped me back off at Kait we were ready to push hard to finish the day.  We were already worn down from carrying too much weight, but the excitement of our freedom and the draw of a bed and a fireplace helped motivate us.

We chose to deviate from the ADT and take a direct route to Serenda’s house.  Our detour took us past an airfield, where lo and behold a silver UFO was parked.  Overtaken by my curiosity, I walked up the little ramp and knocked.

Richard, the man who answered the door of the Lewes UFO.

With curiosity quenched, we trudged the last few miles to Serenda’s house.  Her husband, Reese, and three charming children were wonderful hosts.  Hot fire, pizza dinner, and the promise of a place to stay for day 2 – we were treated like family.  After recovering that first night, we pushed another 10 miles the next day and Serenda came to pick us up at nightfall.  We went out for dinner and drinks, and spoke of many things.  It’s a shame I didn’t get any pictures of our gracious trail ambassadors, but I was too overwhelmed by the experience to think about it.  I don’t know how we will ever be able to repay the Conner family for helping us start our journey with love and positivity.

On day 3 Serenda drove us to the post office to mail some unnecessary pounds home before dropping us back off on the trail.  She made a point to tell us that all of the hikers she had hosted successfully made it to the other coast.  We stopped by the grocery store, and bought her lunch to thank her for her kindness.  I started to tell her that we could never repay her kindness, but she held up a hand to stop me.  With tears in her eyes, she told us that because of her own health conditions, she would never be able to do what we were doing.  Hiking and being outside is what she lives for, and helping us was the closest she would ever get to living her dream.  I think that was the moment that Kait and I knew we were on the right path.

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10 Responses to The First Days

  1. Sally says:

    Ok, I need a tissue… HUGS!

  2. Is there a reason you guys just don’t use a cart or stroller? Is it because you’re going on the ADT? I imagine parts of that you can’t push a stroller?

    I thought about going over some sort of hiking route, but I’m too much of a wimp to handle it. Besides, I’ve read all these blogs of people with their packs ending up doing injury to them and I decided I didn’t want that to happen to me. That, and I KNOW I’m an over-packer. I think of every contingency, man! And all those contingencies add up weight-wise, lol.

    I have read about some packers who went to sporting good stores who then showed them what to get and how to pack properly to lessen their load by 30-40 pounds. I think Steve Vaught was one of them. If you get a chance, you might want to do that.

    Robert Sweetgall walked all 50 states with nothing but what he was wearing and a large fanny pack. He utilized mail drops a lot to supply himself along the way, swapping out winter clothes for summer clothes, etc. He ended up sleeping all sorts of weird places.

    That is a thought. More mail drops might be a good thing to do. Have someone send you stuff general delivery at a pre-arranged post-office via general delivery at a pre-arranged time. Are you doing those at all?

    Well, good luck with your packs. Take care of yourselves!!

    • John says:

      Holly,

      We have done a few mail drops, and we only carry food for a handful of days at a time. I wish we had the money to swap out our heavier gear items for lighter ones, but we simply don’t have a budget for it – we are stuck with what we have. We keep mailing things home, too.

      As far as a cart, we have been advised by many trekkers to wait until we cross through West Virginia, then get a push cart. We have been pricing them out. Our packs are heavy, but manageable. Honestly, we are both kind of starting to like the full-body workout of carrying a pack. Like Nate told us, it gets easier every day.

  3. Hi Holly
    This is Gary Mitchell
    I was reading your article above . That is very interesting for doing a walk of that long.
    Even though when i do my walk in just 32 days from now. I have some more good news about my walk, I have been contacting different churches along my route and i have been contacted by one who is working to see if i can sleep down stairs of their church. I will keep you posted.

    • John says:

      Hi Gary,
      Yes, churches can be great places to contact. Even if they can’t offer you a place inside, they are almost always happy to let you set up your tent on their lawn. Others have suggested we talk to volunteer fire departments and American Legions. Best of luck with your final plans. We’ll be keeping an eye on your trip.

  4. Amy Kratz says:

    Kait and John, I read this and thought about the day I met you both in Lewes on mile 3 and then by happenstance on mile 8, things happen for a reason and remember your goal which is genuinely out of goodness and hope. Realize that you have each other and your two 4 legged friends and know there are people and forces in the world that will get you the distance you need to go. I have been thinking about our meeting up twice in one day and I was just so happy to help you, because as Serenda said I too couldn’t do what your doing because of health reasons. Take care weary travelers you CAN DO THIS. You are already on the learning curve. Be safe and I’ll be following your journey.

    Amy

    • John says:

      Hooray Amy! You and the Conners really saved our spirits that first day. It seems so long ago already…

      The learning curve is steep, but we are climbing steadily.

  5. I_am_from_England says:

    Hi,

    I’m not sure how I stumbled across this, was it Reddit? I think it was, so I’ve chosen my Reddit username to post here so you know 🙂

    Just want to say good on you for doing this, I wish I had the balls to drop my job and do something worthwhile. Instead I’m sat at a desk at 9am with nothing to do, reading this blog. *forever alone pic*

    Keep up the good work, I’ll continue to read 🙂

  6. lauren says:

    you guys really do rock. mistakes and misjudgments are no biggie. don’t let anything get you down!!

  7. Jim Bragg says:

    Hello,

    Congratulations on Xour first steps. The are more significant than final ones of a destination. It took me four summers to walk across America. Finished up last October & I consider it one of the best investments of time & effort ever. Even if I’m retired, it still is a life changing experience & I have benefited greatlX. I started on the ADT & staXed on it to Cumberland & then the GAP & then mostlX roads westward to Astoria, Oregon. I don’t follow directions all that well & as long as the sun was mostlX on mX left side, I wasn’t lost.
    The best advice is something that was passed on to me bX Robin & PattX when the walked the ADT in 2006–“Don’t quit on a bad daX.” There will bad ones at times, but theX will pale to the wonderful memories & contacts along the waX. VerX best wishes the gimpX geezer

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