As my grandfather packed away the remaining supplies he’d need for his thru hike of the Appalachian trail, my grandmother couldn’t be more excited. “Take your time”, she said. After fifty-some odd years of marriage (odd to say the least) she was ready for some alone time. My grandfather, Herbert Newton Lape, was preparing to hike the entire 2,178 miles of the Appalachian trail from northern Georgia to Maine. Him and another older friend of his would attempt to hike through 14 states, across countless numbers of beautiful landscapes, in the snow, rain and heat, camping the whole time in small lightweight tents carrying everything they needed on their backs for six months. This was a feat for anyone, needless to say a couple of old dudes. Family and friends alike made jokes and easily doubted the impossible task ahead of them. As a teenager in the middle of high school hearing this, my first thought was “there is no way!” immediately followed by “i didn’t know a thing like that even existed” and finally “one day…….”
As my grandpa, better known as Herbie, set out with his good friend from Springer mountain Georgia with high hopes and more gear than they knew what to do with, eyes much bigger than their stomachs, looking ahead at the next 6-7 months and over 2,000 miles ahead of them, the rain started. The cold rain lasted the entire day. Wet hair, cold wet face, wet hands, wet jacket, wet shirt from the sweat and condensation building under his rain jacket, wet shorts, wet shoes, wet socks, wet feet. Even in a perfect world the first day is a tough one, but the rain can ruin your life. As the rain fell they continued. As the pain grew they pushed on. 50 pound of weight on their backs, uncomfortable due to the weather and a bug now dug into their brains, “was this a mistake?”. They made it to their shelter and dropped their packs, set up their sleeping bags and called it a night early.
day 2 rain.
day 3 rain. Enough rain to drive anyone insane. This is definitely not the way to start this beautiful adventure he had planned in his head all this time. As my grandfather and his traveling partner reluctantly rose from their sleep and out of the comfort of their warm sleeping bags, they packed their things and headed back out into the wild, wet as it might be. At this point the blisters have started. Silver dollar blisters on the heels of his feet from the backs of his shoes rubbing, tiny little blisters forming between his toes, chaffing from the constant rubbing between his legs, shoulder straps digging in to his shoulders and now the constant thought of a warm shower with a bed and a hot meal has creeped into his balding grey head. WINE! its been three days now since a glass of wine. He might even miss my grandmother who at this point is probably having the time of her life. The creek water he had filtered earlier that day was not cutting it. The peanut butter protein bar he had for lunch was not what he wanted. Mentally he was done.
“HEY OLD MAN!”
A man sitting in a solid white van had yelled towards Herbies direction as he stumbled up out of the woods into the road crossing that would eventually lead into the town of hiawassee.
“YOU NEED A RIDE TO TOWN?”
“Yea, get me the hell outta here.” he replied as he hopped into the van.
I woke up the first day of spring 2010 with a colony of butterflies throwing a rager in my stomach. My grandpa, dad, and myself had stayed the night in a little hotel outside Amicalola state park after driving down from Ohio. I was to start my thru hike of the Appalachian Trail in an hour with two generations of my family sending me off into the woods to live alone and hike for 6 months. The pressure was off. I only had to make it 3 days and I would have out hiked any member of my family that was ever attempted to thru hike the Appalachian trail. “goodbye Jase, i love you” my dad said. “See you in a couple days” my grandpa said with a wink, and i was off. I didn’t turn around. I was scared, excited and nervous but i knew this was something i wanted. An hour later I realized I left my water container in the car.
day 2 sunny.
day 3 gorgeous. I had gotten lucky. beautiful weather had propelled me through the first few days and i was in high spirits. As i pulled out of the woods and onto the first road crossing a voice from the left shouted “HEY KID, NEED A RIDE TO TOWN?” I couldn’t believe it. It had to have been the same guy in the same white van that my grandpa got a ride from years ago. “NO I’M GOOD, THANK YOU!”, I replied, and walked the remaining few steps my grandpa missed all the way to Maine.
Herbert Newton Lape. My grandpa. A legend in my eyes and an inspiration to this thing i call a life. Without his “failed attempt” at the Appalachian Trail, who knows where I’d be and what I’d be doing. However, because of that decision to drop everything and hike a seemingly endless trail without knowing the ultimate outcome, I was inspired to change my life. I would eventually go on to thru hike the entire Appalachian trail, bicycle around the united states 7,000 miles and canoe the entire length of the Mississippi river, among countless other life choices that were in some way inspired by one mans choice.