Ten weeks, seventy days, from now — well, actually just about 70 days and 57 minutes — my flight to Atlanta is scheduled to take off.

Ten weeks. Boy, time seems to be flying. That means in just about 9 1/2 weeks I will be leaving my job, which means in about 7 1/2 weeks I will be giving my notice.

There is lots to do in the remaining ten weeks. No, not at work. I mean to get ready for my hike. I am waiting for the 2009 edition of “Appalachian Pages” to be released and mailed out in the next couple of weeks, then I can finalize my schedule and decide where I will have Jodi send mail drops to me and where I will shop in local stores. And someday soon I need to gather all the warm weather gear I plan to use for the early, cold, weeks of my hike, and see if it actually all fits in my pack. But in the end that’s all just details. Those things need to be taken care of, but they are not the hike. When I start to worry too much I remind myself, it’s just walking.

Here are some words that I read long ago, and which somebody recently reminded me of.
They were written by one of my favorite authors, Edward Abbey, in the forward to “Appalachian Odyssey- Walking the Trail from Georgia to Maine,” by Steve Sherman and Julia Older, published in 1977.

Appalachia. Appalachia . . . Good God I lived there, in the northern
fringe, on a little sub-marginal farm in western Pennsylvania, for the
first eighteen years of my life.
Eighteen years. Good God. Finally rescued by Hitler and the war (The
war), the draft, the United States Army, God bless them all.
Otherwise, who knows, I might still be there driving a coal truck for
the strippers, or teaching English to sullen delinquents with
TV-shriveled minds in some grimy small-town high school, or even–God,
the soul curls to think of it–traipsing the Appalachian Trail from
end to end, for fun! for recreation! for re-creation!

Well, so I escaped. But my brother Howard, he’s still living back
there, making a living, driving coal trucks, building gasification
plants (he’s a high steel man), raising three wild kids. But he has
guts, unlike me. And my mother, and old man, they’re still there,
surviving in their little house by the side of the road where
forty-ton super trucks thunder past every thirty minutes, shaking the
foundations. The farm was sold, years ago, and the old house burned
down, and the wild blackberry are taking over the fields that the
strip-miners didn’t get to first, and over that whole remembered
countryside of childhood now hangs the awful sound of industry. On a
clear day you can see for maybe two miles. Powerlines draped from hill
to hill. Constant traffic on the network of highways that look, on a
map, like the red breakdown of varicose veins. Trailerhouse slums and
“mobile-home” ghettos spreading across the slopes of abandoned farms.
Most working people in America can no longer afford to live in real
houses, no longer have enough free time to build a real home for

But in the burgeoning towns and cities the skyscraper banks rise up,
tombs of tinted glass and frosty steel, towering above the surrounding
tracts of fiberboard and plywood, aluminum and formica, where the
serfs live. Death to the land. Death to all the old American dreams.
How absolutely prescient was Oliver Goldsmith when he wrote, two
centuries ago, of a similar malaise falling on England:

Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.

No need to go on with this dirge. Harry Caudill has said it all, much
better, in Night Comes to the Cumberlands and in his recent book, The
Watches of the Night.
Thus our native Appalachia. In large part a commercial, industrial,
profiteering wasteland, America’s first great National Sacrifice Area.
(There will be others.) But the wonder of it all is that some of the
original beauty of the land yet remains. The flame azalea still blooms
in the Big Smokies, and the blue phlox, the Mayapple, the mandrake,
the rhododendron, the toadshade, the trillium, the showy orchid, the
hobblebush, the dogwood, the wild chokecherry. In our Appalachian
autumn a multitude of ancient hardwoods burst out in seventeen
different shades of red, gold, rust, the hues of October in infinite
number. From Georgia up to Maine, the rush of spring-green, the
exultance of ten thousand different species of flowers, and then in
the fall the movement of color in reverse, from north to south.
Lonesome farmhouses still hiding back on red-dog roads, down in
hardscrabble hollows, up near the summits of cloud-shaded hills. Coon
dogs baying at the smoky moon. The winding streams, the covered
bridges, the deep woods where the deer still flourish–now more than
ever!– and the black bear still raid the hogpen, the chickencoop, the
backpacker’s portable kitchen.

The backpacker? Who else? For through the middle of the capitalist
squalor and naturalist splendor runs the Appalachian Trail, a
ridiculous footpath 2,000 miles long running the length of the
Appalachian Mountains, up and down a thousand peaks, in and out of a
thousand valleys, across a thousand meadows, through a thousand forest
glades. Myself, I’ve walked only a few short stretches of it in Great
Smokies National Park. But almost everyone who’s heard of it, or come
across it, the idea–the ideal!–of some year actually getting into
harness and walking the entire Trail has always haunted the back of my
mind. It’s one of those outdoor dream-adventures we all dream and very
few have the nerve to realize. Like traversing the Grand Canyon from
end to end; like hitchhiking through the Sahara and into the Congo
past the Mountains of the Moon down the planet’s awesome curve to the
Kalahari Desert and the Cape of Good Hope; like skiing down Fujiyama;
like personally inspecting each and every active volcano on the face
of the earth.

Many talk, many write. Some do. Steve Sherman and Julia Older are two
who’ve done it. This is their book about the walk and it’s a good
book. In it you’ll find everything you ever wanted to know about
hiking the Great Hike. Everything and then some–none of the misery
has been left out, none of the tedium, none of the chiggers, snakes,
mosquitoes, or odd-ball fellow hikers, and none of the glory,
exaltation and satisfaction either. They say they’ll do it again
sometime and I, for one, believe them. (You may not.)

Appalachia is in trouble, but that’s not news, the whole country’s in
trouble, under assault by the insatiable demands of an insane
expanding economy and what the journalist Tom Wolfe (of New York; no
kin to the real Thomas Wolfe, the writer) calls a “happiness
explosion.” Fueled by more Valium, alcohol and the St. Vitus Dance
than by happy people, this explosion is real all the same, and its
destructive disruption of the North American continent condemns our
children and our grandchildren to a form of poverty heretofore unknown
in human history: confinement for life to a wonderful department store
set in the midst of a steaming junkyard three thousand miles wide.
They will not love us for it.

But wait a minute! One thin ray of hope shines through the smog and
uproar. One thin bright ray: it is the conscience of the American
people beginning to stir at last, beginning finally to question and
sometimes even resist the Master Plan of industry and technocracy.
From the consciousness of loss and danger rises the glow of a national
earth-use morality. We call it environmentalism; the conservationist
cause; the light of sanity and moderation. Julia Older and Steve
Sherman speak for that cause, not with a sermon, as I do here, but
with the implicit meaning of their experience. In this Appalachian
Odyssey they have voted with their feet. All over America a million
others are doing the same. Some day soon these votes must count–and
be counted.

Edward Abbey

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Allen F. Freeman