Posted by: aidshike | February 13, 2013

Lessons from disappointment at 12,500 feet – day four

Dear Shelly,

My dream has always been to hike the entire Appalachian trail before I am 50 (at 47 I have 3 years left now) and the vision I have had for many years has become to hike the entire trail with a team of HIV+ people (hopefully the best eclectic mix of male/female, LGBT and straight, white, black, Latino etc.) To hike to raise awareness about the true story of the epidemic of HIV/AIDS and to raise money for HIV clinics and service providers …and maybe even for research. This is the simple explanation.

The idea is ambitious but it will start with local hikes and getting a buzz going. One of the main ways to raise money will be to get people to sponsor me for every mile I walk/hike in preparation. I have started logging these miles 4 days ago and there will be a daily count at the end of each blog.

But I can’t follow through with this plan alone. I will need the assistance of others, possibly interns and volunteers as the project proceeds. I plan on getting publicity in HIV magazines, local newspapers and magazines and more. Since I worked in the outdoor industry for many years, I have contacts with stores like REI and Hudson Trail Outfitters (HTO) and manufacturers like Jansport, Mountain Hardwear, Patagonia & Gregory Packs. With these contacts and knowledge of the industry I believe I could find gear sponsors.



In 1989 when I was still with HTO I attended a seminar/expedition that took place in Seattle and on Mount Rainier. This yearly event is sponsored by the gear manufacturer JANSPORT. Mt Rainier is the largest glacial peak in the country (14,400 feet) and looms over Seattle even 2 hours away… when it isn’t raining and cloudy :~)  At that point of my life I not only sold the gear, but I used it all the time. I was an avid rock climber, mountain biker and hiker. The expedition was an amazing experience and was a great learning experience for me, in many ways.

In our training on the mountain, we spent 4 days at Camp Muir, the base camp at 10,000 feet, where we learned how  to ice climb with ice axes, how to traverse a rope stretched between two peaks connected only by a harness and a few carabiners, and how to “self-arrest.” Self –arrest is a mountaineering related maneuver in which a climber who has fallen and is sliding down a snow or ice slope arrests (stops) the slide by himself or herself without recourse to a rope or other belay system. This was a fun but scary thing to learn right on Rainier’s lower slopes using just your own ice axe.

We were also trained what it meant to be a part of a rope team. A rope team consists of 4 people connected by a rope (duh) that work as a team (duh) The idea of a rope team is that each person has an ice axe and if one of them were to fall – especially down a glacier – then there are three others that have a chance to save them by planting their ice axe into the ice… thus securing part of the rope and hopefully the other members. I was trained that on a rope team you are either an asset or a liability.

After 3 days at base camp, sleeping at 10,000 feet to get acclimated, we set out up the mountain very early in the morning to climb to the summit. After a number of hours we stopped at a spot with a very breathtaking view. It was “Disappointment Cleaver” at 12,500 feet high. After catching our breaths in silence for a while, our guides mentioned that from here on out the team would not make major stops, and asked if anyone wanted to turn and go back down the mountain. There were a few rotund guys who brought a few six packs to base camp and they chose to return, and there were two writers from Backpacker magazine that were not climbers and they chose to head down. But then very quietly I mentioned that I too would not proceed to the summit. Our main guide, Lou Whitaker of Rainier Mountaineering, who I had become very close to, was surprised and I think he felt let down… but I explained that I knew that I would summit even if only on adrenaline, but that he had also told as that the descent was the most dangerous, not only because we would be tired but also because our momentum and gravity would be propelling us forward and down. So I explained that I did not want to be a liability and potentially put some of my new friend’s lives in danger.

This was the hardest decision I had ever made in my life. In those few moments I had to let go of a dream I had been chasing for a few years. And then we sat… and we sat. We watched the other climbers as they continued to climb up the mountain until they looked like tiny ants. As I remember it, we didn’t talk very much. I just sat … for the first 30 minutes or so I was overcome with a myriad of emotions; but then I began to look around me.


I was higher than almost anything in sight and higher than most people would ever get in their lives. If there ever was a “Kodak moment” and a snapshot view, it was all around me. It began to dawn on me something that I have pondered for all these years since then…My trip was about the tremendous journey of hiking on a massive mountain, of pushing my boundaries and of embracing the dance we humans do with nature. Although I wanted to reach that summit soooo badly, I realized that LIFE IS ABOUT THE JOURNEY, NOT THE DESTINATION. This is a simple cliché and just words in some ways, but a life’s lesson that I have never forgotten.


So I dream of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail, 2,200 miles… and I dream of doing so with a team of other HIV+ people, but I really just want to hike, to hike as far as I can; to do the best I can with all that I have got. I want to do everything in my power to train as best as I can to give myself the best chance I will have to reach this dream. This is another lesson I learned after my trip to Washington state. I was so busy working tons of overtime hours at my job as a manager of the outdoor outfitter shop where I worked, that I did not train properly. I thought I was ready, but I did not give myself the best chance to reach the top of the mountain. I know I will not make that mistake again. I cannot control Mother Nature, I can’t be promised of how my body will hold up over 4 months on the trail; but I can do everything in my power to be ready

This week is the beginning of the journey. These are my first steps. So today I walked again…just over 2.5 miles. On the trail there will likely be days where I will hike over 20 miles over rugged terrain of ups and downs. That is the future. Today I walked on the concrete sidewalks of Baltimore city, but from now on, every step is one step closer to that rugged terrain.

I can’t wait!!


Total miles: 2.6

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