While cleaning out one of my less-used file cabinets the other day, I came across a musty old folder titled “AT” — Appalachian Trail — which, it turns out, contained two notebooks and several dozen typewritten pages, none of which jogged my memory at all. My lack of recollection was near absolute: I did not remember writing/typing the words that appeared upon those pages, and I remembered very few of the incidents therein related. I did, however, at least remember the macro aspect of that folder, which, given my increasing mental ineptitude, is something, I guess.
Here it is: Over the course of two summers, I hiked the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail. In 1979, I hiked 1,000 miles from Mt. Katahdin, Maine, to Port Clinton, Pennsylvania, where I ran out of money. The following summer — 1980 — I completed my trek from Port Clinton to Springer Mountain, Georgia. All told, I spent 147 days on the Trail, including town/imbibing days.
Growing up as I did in Virginia, through which a quarter — more than 500 miles — of the AT pass, I had long fantasized about adding my name to an End-to-Ender list that, at the time, numbered less than 1,000 people. Though I lived in the snake, poison ivy and mosquito-infested coastal swamplands, I had interfaced with the AT several times in the Shenandoah National Park (three hours drive from the aforementioned swamps), mainly via Boy Scout trips. During those few visits, I met people not much older than I who were in the midst of their AT thru hikes. I big-time liked what I saw of that mobile lifestyle. As well, three of my swampland acquaintances had completed the AT, so not only had I listened to many amusing and inspiring trail-borne yarns, but I also had some first-hand, nuts-and-bolts-type skinny to aid and abet the planning and execution of my on-trail effort.
For reasons that centered around the fact that, when push came to shove, I really didn’t have much else going on in my life at that particular juncture (having opted to take an indeterminate leave-of-absence from my not-exactly-intense university studies), I decided that 1979 was going to be the year I finally attempted to hike the AT. My intention was to hike the whole shebang in one fell swoop, but, sadly, I had my entire backpacking ensemble horked in front of a bar in Huntington, West Virginia, four scant months before I was set to depart. The money I had to spend re-acquiring gear cut into my cash stash enough that I had a choice of either postponing the adventure for yet another year (during which time, who knows what would have happened in my life on the potential waylay front) or starting the trail with the understanding that I would not be able to afford to hike the entire enchilada in one summer.
Most of the hand-scribbled notes I found in that musty file were obviously penned while I was actually on the trail. The genesis of the typewritten pages is less clear. I am fairly certain I know where I was living when I typed the herein-scanned AT pages: a little basement apartment in a building that once served as a tuberculosis sanitarium in Silver City, New Mexico. (Silver City was once home to three such sanitariums, all of which have been turned into apartment buildings. I have the singular distinction of having dwelled in all three of those buildings. Cough cough.) It makes sense, as that was the first place I lived following my AT experience. Though, as you will see (if you are curious enough to read past the syllables you are now eyeballing), my AT pages are amateur in the extreme, I found myself being curious about their contents, even while I was near-mortified by their quality. First, though, as I said, I’m not exactly crystal clear on the memory front here, I guess I was actually trying to write a book about my time on the AT. What I saw in those pages was a young writer striving mightily to find his footing, someone who, while having already made the decision to dedicatedly pursue writing as a vocation (I had been a reporter/editor at various school papers since I was in junior high school), was still having serious trouble navigating his way through the basics of simple narrative technique.
What I also realized was that I must have, at the time I was penning those words, been going through my thankfully short-lived Hunter Thompson genuflection/emulation phase, which basically required of all young, impressionable, aspiring wordsmiths that they never place fingers upon keyboard unless they are both stoned and drunk and unless the events being related were conducted both stoned and drunk. (It took me some number of frustrating years before I realized that I, like almost all people not named Hunter Thompson, am completely unable to write while stoned and drunk.)
I was also fairly amused to see in those AT pages how many failed attempts I had made to essentially get past the goddamned introduction. I have never seen such a high percentage of words dedicated to a beginning, with such a low percentage of words dedicated to the Chapter Ones and zero subsequent chapters.
This long-ago-forgotten batch of mismatched pages also holds my only attempts at penning poetry, at least that I can remember. Judging from those attempts, I feel perfectly comfortable stating that it is a good thing I truncated my career as a budding T.S Eliot.
In a nutshell, I was simply at a point in my life when I did not yet know how to write a book, and the following clearly shows such to be the case.
Still, I see the as-yet-un-germinated seeds of voice, phrasing, tone, pacing, phraseology, perspective and, most importantly, attitude that has come to define much of my work, and my life, since.
I do not know if these AT pages are worth more than a quick gander. I enjoyed taking this stroll down memory lane, even though, like I said, the memory part of that stroll is a tad hazy.