On April 6, after two years of planning, Dick Christian, age 59 and a half, quit his sedentary job as the business manager of a Connecticut Chrysler dealership, and flew to Georgia to begin hiking the Appalachian Trail. His wife, romance writer Zita Christian, urged him to keep a journal. "Look what it did for Lewis and Clark!" Alas, her pleas fell on deaf ears. So she has decided to tell the tale for him.
Though Dick is a whiz with numbers and can compute interest rates in his sleep, he has no sense of direction. None. His wife is concerned and hopes those white blazes that mark the trail are big, bright, and frequent.
I told Dick to take a hike and he took me seriously.
Last month I called my travel agent and told her I wanted to purchase a one-way ticket to Atlanta for my husband. She said, "What are you going to make him do - walk home?" Exactly.
On April 6, Dick flew from Connecticut to Georgia where he began his trek on the Appalachian Trail ("AT"). The trail begins at Springer Mountain, Georgia, and ends some 2,160 miles later at Mount Katahdin, Maine. If all goes well, he'll reach his destination in late September or early October.
Whenever we get ready for vacation, I'm always the one packing and unpacking, making sure all my outfits are coordinated according to a certain color scheme and that I have an assortment of accessories to satisfy any last-minute fashion whims. (Hiking isn't for me. Could you tell?) This time, Dick was the one facing the packing challenge. Using every flat surface in the living room, he spread out his tent, foam mattress, sleeping bag, water bottles, water filter, walking sticks (I'm sure there's a fancy name for them, but it escapes me at the moment), a tinyˇand I do mean tinyˇstove, fuel tank, a nest of two pots and a frying pan, one pair of long pants, two pairs of shorts, two t-shirts, a Polartec shirt, three pairs of socks, a wool hat and a pair of gloves. He packed and upacked several times, each time looking for a spot in which he could squeeze yet another ounce of somethingˇa piece of rope, an item for his first-aid kit, or another Snickers. Eventually, he found a spot for everything. The day he left, he had the pack weighed at the airport: 57 pounds. That's about one-third of Dick's weight.
He called me Tuesday night to say that he and his pack had made it to Georgia safe and sound, thanks in large part to Marty Rodgers, an AT hiker who gave him a ride from Atlanta to Amicalola Falls State Park, some 100 miles north. If all goes as planned, he'll arrive in Suches, Georgia, on Saturday and call me. I'll be hovering around the phone till then.
For those of you who don't know, Dick has been walking 4 miles a day for over 10 years. That's EVERY day - during rain, hurricanes, and blizzards. The day he had to have his gall bladder removed, he got up at 3 a.m. so he could walk before we went to the hospital at 5 a.m. He walked the next day too, just not as fast and not quite as far. Still, walking around the neighborhood isn't the same as walking in the woods, almost 2000 miles away from home. I keep reminding myself that he is a member of the Appalachian Mountain Club and has hiked with club members in the Canadian Rockies, Glacier National Park, the Adirondaks, Catskills, and the White Mountains. He has already hiked portions of the AT in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Maine, but this time he plans to hike the whole trail in one trip. And this time he's going alone. He said he'd like to finish the trail in 5 months, but that would mean he'd have to hike 15 miles a dayˇwith a 57-pound backpack. That's pretty ambitious for a man who will turn 60 this summer!
A friend of mine is pregnant. She has a book that charts standard development. For example, one week the baby is the size of an olive, the next week the size of a big lima bean (or maybe I have that backwards). I'm going to do the same for Dick - chart his progress, that is, not get pregnant. If you'd rather not receive the reports, just let me know. I'll take your name off the list. In the meantime, if you have any questions you'd like me to ask him, just let me know that too. We're hoping to talk a couple of times a week.
He'd never ask this, but I will: Please keep him in your prayers.
Special Note to his sweepstaking friends: He won a 15-minute calling card today in the Avery Dennison's "Get Connected" sweepstakes. I plan to make good use of that prize.