And I said: "The what?"
Let's go back. It was August of 2005. I had just started my new job as the Executive Director of the Red Cross chapter in High Point, NC. Hurricane Katrina had struck the Gulf Coast the day before. Everyone felt sorry for me, starting a new position in the midst of the largest disaster relief operation in Red Cross history. But actually, it was a blessing. There was no time to be the 'new guy.' We were in hurricane mode and I felt completely at home. This was a new position, but not a new job for me. As a career Red-Crosser, having been a volunteer, and then an ExecDir at several chapters spanning 20+ years, I had been through many disasters and several hurricane operations. I knew just what we needed to do. I just hadn't planned on the pain. Indigestion? Shoulder out of whack? Hard to breathe? Deep hurt right in 'there'? Am I having a heart attack? Oh, not now, please!
The pain subsided after a few minutes, but it really shook me up.
Across the street from my office was a family medicine practice. I made an appointment and a few days later was getting checked out by Dr. David. Actually, I was expecting to get sent directly to the hospital to get my clogged arteries opened up. I really was. I figured after years of a desk job, smoking off and on for decades, and plenty of greasy junk food, I was a perfect candidate for heart disease. Well, there were lots of tests, a complete physical, and......no heart attack. My cholesterol levels were way out of the norm but he said we could take care of that. 'Now you need to quit smoking, eat better and start getting some exercise.'
Wow, what a relief. I had had my health scare and it worked. At age 53, I figured I had a window of opportunity to get myself back into a healthier lifestyle and better shape before time and age made it impossible. With the help of my colleagues at the office and my doctor, I kicked the smoking habit, joined a gym, and learned to love salads and chicken. Several of us at the office tried this at the same time. For me, it stuck. I started using a local nature path after work and talked about getting others to form a hiking group. The group went nowhere, but one staff member - Sarah - stopped in my office and said those fateful words: "If you like hiking, you should do the Appalachian Trail."
I had no clue what she was talking about. I was born in Illinois and raised in Southern California. I found myself in the Carolinas because my last duty station in the USAF was at Myrtle Beach, SC. I didn't know what the AT was or even where it was. Fortunately, Sarah was insistent that this was for me - and inspired me with stories of her time on the trail during her school days. One of our most active volunteers, Mike, heard about my growing interest. He had hiked sections of the trail in his youth as well as being a member of a trail maintenance team. One day, a stack of books and maps showed up on my desk, courtesy of Mike. I was hooked.
So, the first chapter of my AT saga began with chest pains and a couple of friends who pointed the way. It's all Sarah's fault I would later kid her. But Mike helped too. And I can't forget the help of Dr. Dave. Thanks, you guys.
Now I sit here, at the close of 2011, a victim of cutbacks and unemployed. So, I will call it a retirement, load up my backpack, and make plans to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. It's 2,185 miles, through 14 states, from the top of Springer Mountain, Georgia all the way to Mount Katahdin, Maine. My target date is April 1st.
This will be the story of my attempt at a 'Thru-Hike' of the Appalachian Trail.
AND IT'S ALL SARAH'S FAULT! :)