Hiking the Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Trail — The Hike, 1988                                         

My friends Maxine, Etta and I were open to adventure: a five-day hike on the Appalachian Trail (the AT). It’s 1988, we’re all in our 40’s, elated to take on this challenge. Maxine is a serious hiker, she has helped blaze the Florida Trail, she’s sinewy, brave, and fun-loving. Etta is a racewalker, many miles on her sturdy legs, and my best friend. I feel fairly fit, ready for something different, wanting to prove myself physically adept. “Mens sana in corpora sano”, as my high school motto had it, “a sound mind in a sound body”.

Maxine took me under her wing, and we spent several enjoyable weekends on Florida hikes. I learned to read trail blazes, hammer in tent stakes, tie food way up high in a tree to keep it safe from raccoons and bears. Various incidents are blazed in my memory: trudging cautiously across an endless field dug up and horribly disfigured by wild boar, the uneven trenches ready to turn an ankle without a moment’s notice. Then there was the brownie incident.

Maxine and I are ensconced in our tent, finishing up a pan of brownies, luxuriating in the embers of the day.  We are putting off the moment when one of us needs to take the pan outside to wash it, since a dirty pan would attract predators. But we’re so cozy. Then the urge to pee strikes. Oh no, I’m so relaxed, I can’t face putting on and lacing up my hiking boots now that my toes are breathing in freedom. A brilliant idea strikes, and I suggest to Maxine that I can solve both these issues: “I’ll pee in the pan! I’ll empty it out the tent flap:  I’ll be relieved and the pan will be clean!” Then we can wash it with soap in the morning. I think Maxine is still laughing though I never understood what was wrong with my ingenious plan.

After a few of these hikes, building my leg muscles, enjoying wonderful fellowship, oblivious to my own naïveté, I’m ready for the AT.

We set off on a glorious day in May, with an overnight at Maxine’s mom’s home in Atlanta. The next day we drove to Walasi-Yi Junction, where our shuttle car picked us up for the ride to the trailhead at Springer Mountain.

The bad and the good: The steep, twisty road brought on my carsickness. When we reached our destination and the fresh air caressed my face, I recovered with uncharacteristic speed. Then the long uphill hike to the AT’s famed southern terminus triggered my dormant asthma. My inhaler came to my rescue. Inauspicious beginnings. I was wearing a borrowed backpack; did it have bad juju? It cut constantly into my flesh, and I never did get it tied on with any degree of comfort. But oh the joy of taking it off! It very quickly became obvious that I couldn’t keep up with Maxine and Etta. We used the whistle system: if they lost sight of me for any amount of time, they’d call and I’d respond. Safety and mutual assurance.

We’d occasionally meet other hikers, a dog carrying its own pack with its bowls and food, but mostly it was just we three. We initiated a tradition of taking our shirts off on every mountain top.  Our ritual had the power to turn a gloomy day into a sunny one, when the golden orb would peek out from behind the clouds just to catch a glimpse of us. We enjoyed mealtimes together; food is glorious in the open air, beyond any 5-star restaurant (except in Paris, of course). Oatmeal and raisins for breakfast, canned tuna or sardines for lunch, Lipton’s’ Bag O’Noodles for dinner, with crème brule, disguised as humble vanilla pudding, for dessert.

After five days, we hiked down a mountainside, after fearing we’d get blown off by the unexpected near-tornado of the night before. We spent the night in a boarding house in Dahlonega (site of the first major U.S. gold rush, 1828). At the family- style dinner, we gorged on country ham and fried squash. Maxine slipped into her surprise Ms Peacock persona, belle of Atlanta, with her Southern intonation and incredulous stories. Etta and I shoveled more food into our mouths to prevent the giggles from slipping out. When asked what we did for a living, Etta and I mumbled that we were teachers, concerned that our profession as sexuality educators would not be kindly received in the explicitly fundamentalist atmosphere at our table.

The clawfoot bathtub felt like heaven, blisters and chafing forgot, though the luxurious soft mattress and pillows felt alien. Off to Tampa the next day, already thinking of lists and chores (and laundry), but the five-day sojourn on the AT would be forever blazed in our blood.

Appalachian Trail, 1988

They stand proud and tall,
Burdened by backpacks,
Heartened by joy and anticipation,
Walking sticks firmly in hand,
The three Graces hit the Appalachian Trail.

Thalia, Aglaia, and Euphrosne,

Better known as Maxine, Etta and Mar,
Maxine, she of many walks, pioneer of the Florida Trail,
Etta, strong legs, stout heart, blithe spirit,
Mar, used only to short, flat, close to home trails.

May is perfect month for hiking,

After the snows, before the mosquitoes and black flies.
Mar gets carsick on ride to trailhead,
Stomach calms, resolve grows,
Fresh clean air whistles by, thrills to the bone.

Up inclines astonishing to Mar,

Up and down and then up and then forever up.
At last, ridge walking, touching the sky,
Piney smells, robust breezes,
Trail wends through thicket and copse, opening to secret clear spaces.

A slog along muddy path,

Shoulders and legs complaining
Of the weight harnessed and inescapable,
But filled with such treasure galore, feast of midday tuna and crackers,
And secret evening delights, fresh lemon, flask of Jack Daniels.

Day Three, minds beginning to clear

Of endless lists, of life before, who and what left undone,
Of life after, how to go back,
To humdrum, no matter how soft, how safe,
The indoors: no creeks to cross, no wind to chap cheeks, no sky to marvel at.

Cloudy day, squishy underfoot,

Etta and Maxine take turns to make sure Mar is in sight,
Then a startle of joy greets them, each in her turn,
Mountainside cove lush and aglow in deep pink trilliums,
A Monet scene alive and pulsing before their dazzled eyes.

A summit is in sight,

Soft currents of air, wafting scent of clean earth, ears tuned to rhythms of woodpecker
Clouds wander past, sun breaks through,
Illuminating their ascent.
Ah, joy, sit a while, bare breast to the glory of morning.

Evening, time for quiet rejoicing,

Soggy noodles never tasted so good,
Chores completed in harmony, dishes cleared, packs organized for the morn,
In the gathering dusk with ghosts of old trees whispering in the wind,
Etta asks, “Anybody want to go for a walk?”

Storm brewing on Blood Mountain,

The wind gods shake the tent, the Graces glad for shared warmth,
The tempest howls and screams throughout the night.
Mar getting up the nerve to go for a pee,
Watch for bears, she is advised.

 Last day, two mile hike down Blood Mountain, highest point on the AT in Georgia,

Past stone markings “Here were Indian wars”, many slaughtered.
The switchbacks down the mountain side treacherous and never-ending,

At last! The road is in sight, chariot car awaits the Graces,
Joy! Success, tears, and deep, deep breaths.

A recent photo of Maxine (l) and Etta (r)

Marilyn Myerson, PhD Philosophy, has learned to take nothing for granted and to have fun. She retired from USF after 38 years of teaching, learning and kicking up her heels in Women’s and Gender Studies. Marilyn was the first outside hire in W(G)S, starting in 1973, when the department was just one year old. She was an administrator at various departmental and dean’s levels, including a stint as W(G)S Chair before her retirement as Emeritus faculty in 2010. She shepherded the Human Sexual Behavior class through its many incarnations, developed the original women’s health classes, and taught feminist research methodology. She is currently in three writing groups, and happily involved with OLLI-USF, taking art and writing classes. She created and teaches OLLI Imaginative Writing classes and facilitates writing groups.

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9 Replies to “Hiking the Appalachian Trail”

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed your wonderfully epic journey! How grand to look back and have such memories to fall back on. Thank you for sharing your story.

  2. Although I have never hiked the AT, I felt as if I had, reading of your adventures. Thank you so much, especially for the visual of pink trillium fields.

  3. Loved the personal poetic writing! A great one to pass down to friends and family. What an adventure!
    And you always leave a little intrigue. Did you pee in the brownie pan?

  4. What a wonderful story, Marilyn! I so admire your courage to take this trek and your creativity about how to get rid of pee!

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