Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Split Pea Soup for the Hiker's Soul - II

Books Currently in the Burn Pile:

The Thru-Hiker's Handbook - Bob "501" McCaw
Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker's Companion - An Army of Dwarves

And without further ado, I present to you one more book of special magnificence, and by "magnificence," I mean to say that this book will never help you on the Appalachian Traile unless you are questing for certain doom!

The Road - Cormac McCarthy

No book has been more hated than The Road by would-be and will-is Appalachian Traile hikers than this supposed 2006 travelogue. Though the book won the festooned Oprah Winfrey Prize for Missing Punctuation and the Harvard Nugget, Cormac McCarthy clearly hasn't walked the Appalachian Traile ... at least not since the days of nuclear clean-up and world peace.

First off, McCarthy bypasses the normal shelters that are situated on the Appalachian Traile in favor of living in other people's bomb shelters and cellars, stealing their canned goods and potted meats. Not only is this illegal, but McCarthy is dragging an 8-year-old boy with him through his own mercenary fantasies.

Secondly, he teaches the boy how to shoot ... and not just at animals, but at homeless drifters. I suppose many hikers have had ideas of maiming the begging bums that litter the AT in its early days, the same ones that steal food and supplies out of Hiker Boxes, but few go through with such a plan. McCarthy, on the other hand, is singlehandedly responsible for the spike in bum assassinations, seen below:

McCarthy also has no concern for the majestic wilderness that surrounded him during the trip. Not once did he mention the Monarch Butterfly, the scented Dogwood blossoms, or the fields of vibrant coriander that are often found in Central Mexiginia. He did, however, detail his struggles with attempting to roll a shopping cart along the path. It is most obvious that if McCarthy did hike parts of the Appalachian Traile, he had done so in the days before backpacks, quite possibly in a primordial time or maybe even in the far-distant future, when ultralight space fabrics will have given way to the controlled chaos that is a wire-framed, steel grocery cart.

Finally, and this is probably one of the biggest problems with the entire book, McCarthy has lead many hikers straight into the ocean off the coast of South Carolina, which is far, far away from Mt. Katahdin in Maine or Springer Mountain in Northern Georgia - the actual end-points.

McCarthy, hallucinating and weary by only the third week of his attempted thru-hike, didn't really know where he was going, you see? Despite the book's title, McCarthy spends the last half of this piss-poor guidebook deviating from roads, trails, rails and footpaths altogether, bushwhacking his way (child in hand) to a beach, where he had hoped to find "sunlight." As you may or may not know, sunlight is a common term for Lortab or Hydrocodone. And he breaks into a sailing vessel to try and find some.

Disgruntled at the fact that he could only steal a copper spyglass (lots of money in copper these days), McCarthy attempts to barter the child away for drugs from a passing raver who stiffs him, takes the boy, and leaves him to die.

Unfortunately for the Traile community, McCarthy made it back home to his trailer park in Arizona and completed his work. The number of people who've died trying to follow this book's command is innumerable.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


I know, I know. I say right in the header that there will be a "new tall-tale added every, single day." How could I disobey my own directive and not post something thought-provokingly stupid (think about it for a while ... or don't)?

Well, here's something far-fetched for you to chew on. First off, this guy being painted to the right. I love how morbidly obese many sports fans are. Secondly, is this guy actually rooting for LSU? He reminds me of the misshapen dude from 300, the one who gave the Spartans' position away to Xerxes after being rejected by King Leonidas ...

No LSU fan wants this guy standing next to them in the stadium, but if we didn't allow that guy to be an obnoxious clown, he would most certainly do something to sabotage the team.

And so tonight, on a cold, blustery field (cold by Louisiana standards), the Tigers from Baton Rouge might actually win a game, and I will be there, and so will Blimpo, and also lots of other people. For those of you who are wondering what that has to do with "unreality" or "The Appalachian Traile," well, you're just going to have to wait and see ...

Just know that if Troy State wins, the future of hikers around the world will be irrevocably altered. And tomorrow's blog won't be funny, and from there ... well, you know the rest.

See you on the flip-side comrades,

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Backpacker Awards

Welcome friends to the first entry in The Backpacker Awards. It is with great honor that I can sit here tonight, behind my computer screen, body whole, mind complete. But there is a sadness that fills me, nonetheless ...

You see, as a child watching Airwolf starring Jan Michael Vincent and Ernest Borgnine, I dreamed of riding in a helicopter. Has it happened? No. Perhaps, as a man, it was never meant to be.

And while local newspapers, and sometimes even the national media outlets, have already reported on the people I am going to share with you tonight, they need, no - they DESERVE, more.

It is because of their unflinching spirits, their unquenchable zest and their luminous courage that I took off on my own Appalachian Traile adventure. It is because of the following people that I tried everything I could to earn a free ride in a rescue helicopter.

Unfortunately, I didn't understand their ways. While I was out in the Woods, I brought more than just a cellphone. I brought food, for instance. And water. Warm clothes. A sleeping bag. Sometimes, even a map!

And in those times when the weather looked dangerous, I - like a fool - stayed indoors at a hotel, nursing my cowardice with a beer and promiscuous love-making! Sometimes, even a bag of Doritos.

The following awardees didn't do any of these things, nor do they plan to in the future. What they understand about adventure comes from somewhere deep inside of their souls, not from books or studies. These people clench life tightly by its lapel on a daily basis and scream into the faces of Mr. Logic and Captain Rationality: "I don't need your warnings! I will ride in a helicopter and that's final!"

David Vanderwall, 33 - David is a special case, indeed. He was in the process of hiking the Appalachian Traile in June 2007, when after finding out that his water filtration system had broken on him, he kept walking right past roads and other hikers without asking them for water. Nor did he drink any water from out of small streams that littered the pathway.

Understandably, Vanderwall being from Chicago, IL (where it is illegal to ask for water), did what any logical person would do. He climbed up to the top of a mountain (where water comes from) to get better cellphone reception, from where he called for help (many Chicagoans can order bottled water online, too).

After being rescued by six vehicles and drawing a large crowd of people from the small Virginian town of Bland - all of whom have hoses and taps and wells, Vanderwall reportedly responded with: "All this for little ol' me?"

Yes, David. All of it for you. Congratulations, my boy. Tax money hasn't ever been spent on a better cause!

Brian Gagnon, 24 -
If you realized that a free Blackhawk helicopter ride was within reach (better known as two days spent freezing in a sleeping bag), you'd take it, wouldn't you?

Gagnon was hiking with two other people in mid-January atop Franconia Ridge (of the dangerous White Mountains in New Hampshire), but he knew that if he just kept ignoring the weather conditions or the pleas of his companions, he would soon be riding an all-expense-paid swirl in the local military's whirlybird.

His silly mates, who abandoned their own chances for glorious fame and prizes, contacted rescuers when Gagnon failed to make it down the other side of the mountain. They had turned back when the temperature dropped ferociously. Later, Gagnon in a moment of sheer genius decided that he would abandon the shelter he had created to protect himself from the winds and walk out in the snow, bushwhacking his way one mile into the Woods. This made it necessary for rescue workers to get out of their posh chairs and actually "track" him down.

Seems like walking into the forest would decrease your chances of actually being seen be a helicopter, much less the odds that one could properly land ... Oh well, they say hypothermia dulls the senses a bit. Congratulations, anyway, hero. And here's to more adventures in the future.

As for me, I'm signing off for the night. I have something outrageous to do, like standing naked on my roof, twirling an iron rod around my head and yelling at the lightning bolts. It's as close as I will ever come to Vanderwall and Gagnon. A mere dwarf I am, eating fallen crumbs from their beards, crying in their rotary-bladed shadows ...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Split-Pea Soup for the Hiker's Soul

People are flawed. People write books. Therefore, books are flawed. - St. Thomas Aquinas, O' Hypocrita
Would-be hikers, remember that no book is going to save your life, unless it is a special book written by an amorphous, interstellar being. Or perhaps a book that doubles as a knife!

Or even ... one day, as you're walking home from a dinner party, a small metal-plated Bible inserted into your coat's front pocket may indeed save you from the silenced gun of a government assassin.

Barring those three scenarios, I understand that there's a lot of confusion in the world as to what books you should buy. First off, all books I have read leave out the first requirement of being a hiker: how to become unemployed. Secondly, what about would-be hikers who wish to gut a bear, then wear its hide to the Subterranean Costume Ball of Ursus Americanus?

I imagine that since no one is going to explain these things, I will have to at a later date. Frankly, there are so many questions left unanswered by the uninspired "traditional" books and websites, it's a wonder that anyone has successfully hiked the Appalachian Traile at all.

Here's a list of books to do without. More to be added as soon as I can stop coughing up all the poison I licked off of a frog in an attempt to communicate with the spirts.

Books Better-Off Burned:

The Thru-Hiker's Handbook - Bob "501" McCaw

In this rectangularish, forest green autobiography (updated every year so that you can keep track of his whereabouts), Bob "501" McCaw gives 180 pages of anecdotes, drawings and riddles related to his first thru-hike in 1978. One of the most hilarious accounts is the following from pg. 121:

... rock wall just before the highway marks boundary surveyed by 19-year-old George Washington, who, from this very spot, went on to help found the United States of America. What might you do hence?

The humor, of course, stems from what we all know to be true: Washington found the USA beneath a cherry tree. His sister Lucy had sent him to the market to find an avocado, but being an overachiever, he came back with a nation.

McCaw's subtle jokes aside, there is only one thing of value in The Thru-Hiker's Handbook: his systematic pinpointing of 63 "Power lines" along the Traile. This book is most useful to either a.) Frankenstein's Monsters or b.) low-flying, daredevil helicopter pilots.

The Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers' Companion - An Army of Dwarves

This book wins the contest for creating the least-conveniently shaped guidebook. Measuring 13" diagonally and 3" across, TATTHC also wins the contest for being the most rectangular of all books, and is awarded - year after year - a shining, black obelisk for its joie de vivre.

From a hiker's perspective, this book is probably the worst-equipped to get you from one end of the Appalachian Traile to the other. The Army of Dwarves that compile the book are, after all, hateful of Overworldish humanoids, and will often lead unsuspecting hikers into death traps. These poor souls are then recounted in every new edition!

In 2008, there were 21 mentions of death by lightning, drunken brawls or hypothermic, ghostly spirits. TATTHC, due to several thousand FCC violations, will be adding the adjectives "Satanic" and "blood-drenched" before "Companion" in the '09 edition.

And if I may be so abrupt, this blog is now being filed under the to be continued ... section of Appalachian Redux. More book reviews coming as my quest for truth proceeds!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Legends of the Traile: Myron Avery

A Madman, an Axe, and 2,000 miles of beautiful wilderness that needed to be destroyed

Follow the Appalachian Trail across Maine. It cannot be followed on horse or awheel. Remote for detachment, narrow for chosen company, winding for leisure, lonely for contemplation, it beckons not merely north and south but upward to the body, mind and soul of man. - Myron Avery, In the Maine Woods
When running from the authorities with a bloody axe, I often find myself hiding on the Traile. It doesn't work out very well if you can find yourself whilst hiding, see? Luckily, in the Appalachian Mounts, there are plenty of opportunities for the body, mind, soul and body-mind to become completely hypothermic, or quite confused really. Aha! A nice lake in which to swim. - Myron Avery, unpublished letter found on his person, 1958

Myron Haliburton Avery, the man responsible for clear-cutting all 2,000 miles of the forest (that wanderers today trample upon with heavy boots and walking sticks maiming enumerous molds and grasses), was a peculiar boy.

Born on October 31, 1899 to two Russian whalers from Vladivostok who drifted ashore in Maine after being shipwrecked, it was sometimes rumored that his mother - a startling beautiful woman - was stolen away and impregnated at sea by none other than Poseidon. As the story goes, she waited until he was asleep, slipped from out of her giant oyster shell and escaped his undersea kingdom on the back of a mighty seahorse!

The rumor, though probably true, could never be substantiated. She died in childbirth and neither of Avery's two surrogate fathers wanted to talk about it, seeing as Yusuf had been blinded and deafened in the great tsunami of 1870 and the other father, Fillyp, stole a horse and rode off into the wilderness as soon as he was conscious. The prime difficulty, however, was that no one spoke Russian in those days - not even the Russians.

Since no one could understand him, the young, multi-fathered, nameless child spent most of his days burning fenceposts or being taught survival skills by local chickens.

Often found pecking at their seeds, a local farmer cursed him and ran after him with a belt. As he chased the feral child off into the woods, belt in the air, the farmer yelled out loudly enough for the village to hear: "Let God know ye as a 'Myron Avery'!" This name was responsible for everything that followed, you see, as we can use the 1903 edition of Yon Mainer Dictionayree to see that Myron means "sea creature" and Avery means "misshapen" or "preposterous" in its Ancient Summerian incarnation.

Thusly, the preposterous sea-creature went on to live a life of crude prankery - garnering much hatred from all of the people in the village - and it wouldn't be until he met a drunken, old Native in the Woods (Benton MacKaye), that Avery was able to find his one true passion: chopping things, preferably into halves.As the old saying went, "Hear nary chopping? Look around quick, 'cause a tree is dropping." Needless to say, Avery's proclivity to chop first, ask questions later, garnered him a local status of sorts, and when he was but 14-years-old, he was sought out and hired by none other than Captain Archibald Fritz XIV, the wealthiest man in Maine at the time, or perhaps the entire Atlantic Northeast. Fritz can be seen in the photograph to the right, standing with the much younger Avery. The photo was taken mere days before his death*, and fortunately for Avery, he happened to be the one who murdered him. He then took over all 19 of his paper companies and amassed a small fortune, which then was piddled away on booze and an axe collection that to this day is the largest collection of sharp objects in the world. Lastly, merely as a formality, Avery was chased out of town by a new sheriff, and was forced to cut his way through 14 states of wilderness before getting lost in Florida and freezing to death.

This was the beginning of the Appalachian Traile. To be fleshed out sooner or later!

MacKaye, who promised Avery eternal life, amassed a much larger fortune, but that's a different story altogether ...

* Avery was rumored to have enslaved and trained an army of 50 crabs with the assistance of his Native friend, MacKaye, and while no one witnessed the crabs firsthand on the night of the murder, a crushed crab was found beneath the corpse of Fritz. His body had been riddled with pinches. The pinches were, in fact, ruled to be the cause of death. The axe-hole was thrown out, because according to old records, not a single axe could be found for questioning.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Introduction to Unreality ... also known as 'Fiction'

I am about to lie to you.

The Appalachian Trail is 2,314 miles long, and it stretches through 15 states along the Eastern coast of the United States from Northern Florida to Maine.

Well, how was it? Did you cringe at the falsity of it all?! If you did, good job. The truth is that very few people outside a mystical group of Appalachian Trail hikers and their families, or perhaps Professors Tina Hanlon and R. Rex Stephenson, would know what's wrong with the above sentence.

The below sentence is the absolute truth:

The Appalachian Trail is 2,176 miles long, and stretches through 14 states from Northern Georgia to Maine.

The problem with that statement is that it will only be the truth for a few years. Like any unwieldy, volunteer-driven entity, the Appalachian Trail is constantly getting out of hand due to reroutes and new states trying to get in on the cashflow it provides for small towns.

It is because of this complete uncertainty that I have decided to write a book - a book that is 90% unreal. Unreality, you see, allows a great many more possibilities for a book on the Appalachian Trail because for one, it won't become obsolete in two years, and quite frankly, I don't want to bore you to death. There are already 3,749 books* out there meant to kill your inner child, steal your soul, and decapitate the escape mechanism within each and every one of us. These books attempt to convey how wonderful Appalachian Trail hikers felt as they were eating blocks of ramen, or walking through a canopied rhododendron thicket for four hours only to realize that they'd walked the wrong way. Hikers like to talk about tents a lot and perhaps, if you're lucky, how they contracted genital herpes from a lonely squirrel.

Even this year, someone is going to write a book with dreams of cashing in, and they're going to fail.

I'm not saying these authors-to-be aren't great at lots of things - hiking for instance, but hikers aren't writers. Let's examine the differences.

Hikers are good at walking. Writers are good at watching people walk, then talking about them behind their backs: "Is this guy the new Jesus?" Hikers can start fires with white birch bark and lots of wheezing. Writers, on the other hand, start fire with gasoline at midnight and then try to collect the insurance money. Hikers slay bears with pointed sticks. Writers slay bears with water cannons, laser guns, electrified cattle prods, karate chops to the abdomen, or even a magic missile.

Whose book would you rather read?

I am writing this previously unknown and unrequested version of The Appalachian Trail for you. It promises to be a completely ridiculous voyage, one in which I falsify and fantasize about what the Appalachian Trail should have been, and how it should have been created. I will falsify the historical importance of nearly every person or place associated with the Trail ... sometimes merely stretching the truth, other times ripping the very fabric of space in half.

The best part about Unreality, you see, is that there are no boundaries (did you know that Myron Avery not only built the AT, but the he was also born to shipwrecked Russian whalers and could speak with crabs?). 3,749 books on Amazon.com wouldn't lie. I, on the other hand, promise to lie so much and so perniciously, that together (you, me, and the lies) we may discover the truth - cowering in its corner, urinating on itself, hand stuffed into a bag of lime Tostitos.

See you in 2,314 miles,
Shawn Hudson

* Actual number of books may vary; there's a good chance some delusional windbag is self-publishing his divine manual on hiking that includes no less than 30 pages dedicated to how awesome he is right now, at this very instant.