The table in the den is piled with snack crackers, dehydrated dinners, a scant pile of clothes, and sundry items scattered for my appraisal. I spent the morning scouring 3 Trails Illustrated maps, marking the route I'll follow starting on Wednesday. I sent a message out to a few friends and family with the link to my Spot share page so they can follow me around the SALT circuit. SALT stands for Southern Appalachian Loop Trail, a 380 mile traverse conceived by Matt Kirk connecting several iconic trails: Mountains to Sea, Art Loeb, Foothills, Bartram, and of course the Appalachian Trail through the Smoky Mountains.
The odd thing is I don't feel very strongly about going. I don't have that manic excitement I can recall when I first decided to thru-hike the AT. That idea came to me in the middle of the night and I stayed wide awake with the revelation that I was going to do this colossal thing. Those days are past. This morning I struggled to pry my eyes open long after the sun began leaking into the bedroom.
After I completed the AT hike in 1998 I met my wife. Gavin was born in 2000. When a guy conceives a child he immediately becomes more risk-averse. I sold my motorcycle that same year. What happens when a guy is old enough to have grandchildren? So much has been gained -- a Life really. Even so, it's hard not to feel the loss as well. I shouldn't, but I mourn what might have been. That must be what lies at the center of a mid-life crisis. At least I don't feel so strongly about it now. Gone too is the verve that marked my younger days.
So what of Explore Fatigue? Why has this blog gone dormant since last summer's failed FKT attempt of the Colorado Trail? Fatigue occurs when zealous striving temporarily drains a person. I barely know fatigue now. In the 10 months since I meekly conceded the FKT attempt I haven't stopped running. I ran Iron Mountain, Stump Jump, Mountain Masochist, Hellgate, and Thunder Rock. I've fast-packed two longish trips, done a few long training weekends, and cued up about 550 miles of fast-packing for the coming two months. But the strongest feelings I've had about running are relatively mild feelings of dread. My joints ache, but I really haven't even had a sore muscle. Even when I ran myself into the wall on back-to-back training runs (to encourage energy storage) I didn't so much feel it as I just noted it -- with faint satisfaction.
Without the compelling conviction to strive for the top, I have to wonder: What AM I doing? I should be painting the house. Or golfing with Gavin. Or scrambling eggs for Catherine and Loren. I think about that not a little bit. And still I hunkered for hours over the sewing machine to fabricate a pack to secure my cuben fiber tent and UL down sleeping bag to my waist. Is it just force of habit? An odd compulsion that no longer requires the sensation of an inner drive?
Here's another possibility: I shouldn't do it. There are many good reasons to stay home, including the state of my mind and body. There are no material enticements for proceeding. If, given these conditions, I do it anyway, what will be proved? Go ahead, you know what I'm talking about -- what is the only thing that really makes it all worth it? What is ultimately valuable in any human endeavor?
If you'd like a link to follow my trek just post a comment with your e-mail. Even if I'm already gone Robin can send you that.