This past August I hiked Maine’s 100 Mile Wilderness again with my friend Martin Rye, from the UK. He’d read my previous accounts of hiking on this section of the Appalachian Trail and invited me to join him. He published his 100 Mile Wilderness trip report this week as well as the video above, so check them out if you want a complete blow-by-blow account of our journey. They’re both excellent.
Rather than repeat Martin’s account, I thought I’d fill in some of the gaps in his trip report, at least from my point of view, and explain the meaning that this hike had for me. I discovered a few things about myself and my relationship to hiking that I want to remember.
A Kindred Spirit
I’d never met Martin face-to-face before his arrival in Boston, but I knew we’d get on. He likes taking long walks, hiking up big hills, and sleeping outdoors like me. We’ve also been corresponding for a long time, since at least 2009, when he helped me plan my first coast to coast backpacking trip across Scotland in the 2010 TGO Challenge.
Martin is also a very kind person who cares deeply about the welfare of others who’ve had a rough time economically or socially. And although he’s very ambitious, he’s a firm believer in chivalry, honor, and doing the right thing, even if it’s inconvenient. We get along.
Hiking the Same Miles
Although I was excited to hike the Wilderness with Martin, I couldn’t help wondering if I’d feel the same sense of awe about the 100 Mile Wilderness as the first time I hiked there in 2009. The Wilderness beat me up on that trip and I wondered if its potency would be diminished by the passage of time and the much longer trips I’ve done since.
The Wilderness still got its licks in. Instead of the rain out I experienced in 2009, we had drought conditions, water was unusually scarce, and we experienced extremely hot and humid weather. I got dehydrated one day and sick, requiring a day to recover.
After a few days of hot hiking in the blistering heat, Martin’s feet started to swell and he lost most of his toenails. It was ugly and I was worried for his health. He ended up carving up his footbeds, including footbeds we found on the trail, and taping his toes individually. It was like hiking with Frankenstein (sorry dude!). He soldiered on and his feet started to look better, but it was pretty borderline for a while.
Looking back, many of the miles DID feel the same as in 2009, which diminished some of the excitement I felt. It got so I could predict what we’d see based around the next bend, or on top of each peak, based on my memory of my last hike. On the other hand, it wasn’t raining all the time, so I was able to piece in some of the visual gaps I experienced in 2009 when everything was shrouded in cloud and mist.
Still, adding up the pluses and minuses, hiking the same miles on the Appalachian Trail is not my cup of tea. New miles and sights are a key motivator for me and keep things exciting. I like the anticipation.
In Your Eyes
I’ve always hiked longer distance trips solo, so hiking with a friend was a new experience for me. Even better, was hiking with a friend from a different country and culture who’d never been to the US before. It gave me the opportunity to experience Appalachian Trail hiking through Martin’s eyes – through the eyes of someone who is not already immersed in all of the lore, traditions, and assumptions of people who regularly hike the trail. That was cool and restorative, reaffirming the good things about the Appalachian Trail experience that can be hard for section hikers to remember between trips.
For example, how generous hikers are to one another, how the journey is about the people you meet not just the miles you hike, and how town days are as much of the experience as trail days. Martin got to discover all of those things for the first time and I got to rediscover them with him. That made this trip special in a way I hadn’t expected.
The Adventure Continues
Hiking the Wilderness together has cemented a friendship that Martin and I had already but couldn’t take to the next level because we live in separate countries. I’m glad he had the idea to visit and asked me to accompany him. It was a big journey to undertake on a different continent. With a young baby at home, I’m amazed that his wife Helen gave him a free pass to visit.
This isn’t the last you’ll hear of the Adventures of Martin and Philip. We’re planning on hiking coast-to-coast across Scotland in the 2013 TGO Challenge, a journey that is twice as long as the Wilderness. Those will be new miles for us both.