Questing: Three Days on the Appalachian Trail 

Questing: Three Days on the Appalachian Trail  June 13, 2024

Questing is a spiritual practice that helps one clarify the mind and free oneself temporarily from the burdens of life to focus on their own spiritual journey.

After about seven months of planning, June 7 finally arrived, and I was on my way to New York to hike the eighty-six-mile section of the Appalachian Trail in New York. The bags were packed, the body ready, the mind sharp. At least that is what I thought when I left on Friday, June 7.  

I had intended this to be a pilgrimage of sorts, contemplating on St. Teresa’s Interior Castle and praying the hours. Instead, I got three days of problems and problem solving that eventually took me off the trail till next year. Here is the story.  

A Little Walk in the Woods 

On Friday, June 7, I traveled to, staged at Greenwood Lake, and stayed at Lakes Lodging. Jim, the owner was awesome and friendly, and the room was perfect to get some last-minute writing accomplished before I hit the trails in the morning. I was up this morning at 0530 to have my morning coffee and read my news. After that, it was upstairs to shave and prepare for the rest of the day. I would meet my wife for breakfast and finally get on the road. Logistics and timing were not on my side this morning and I would get a later start to drive than I would have liked.  

To keep the fun up, I would stop at Walmart for a plug I would not find but found in my car anyway. Upon coming out of Walmart, and not finding my car, I panicked, “is this really happening?” “Did someone realy steal my car?” Then I realized that I parked it on the other side of the lot. So far, I am seeing a pattern, I just did not notice it yet.  

After a seven-hour drive, I arrived in Greenwood Lake and found an overpriced steak dinner at an old, tired-out restaurant and hotel called the Breezy.   

Day 2, June 8, first day on the trail. After a sleepless night, I was up at 0530. Breakfast was at a small hole in the wall restaurant called the Grill. I would drop off my car outside of Greenwood Lake on NY 17 and meet Carl, my shuttle driver who would insert me into the woods near Windale, NY. Carl was a bit late, but we figured it out and got on our way. Carl was a chatty fellow and the almost hour drive flew by.  

On the trail by 1000, I cruised through fourteen mostly cruisy miles today with a bit of climb, but nothing ridiculous. I found a sweet camping spot and bedded down for the night. Feasting on a backpacking meal of biscuits and jalapeno cheddar sausage gravy. A splash of whiskey to wash it down and then some camp chores, and I was off to my tent to read for a few hours before hiker midnight was upon me and it was lights out.  

June 9, my birthday, day 2 on the trail. I have been playing outside for years and long distant human powered travel is something I am pretty good at. This was not my first rodeo, but this morning, you could have sworn that I never ate a backpacking meal, because nature called quite suddenly. Now, I know that some meals can cause gastric distress, but think this was exacerbated by eating two on one day and adding olive oil to my meal the night prior. Again, the olive oil thing is a thing I have done. Well, I got everything squared away and was finally able to get camp packed up and on my way after a quick cup of coffee. Breakfast would have to wait until my stomach was up to eating.  

About thirty minutes later, I came to fast moving stream, cameled up and completed some morning hygiene routines. I still try and shave every morning; this is my US Army side of me trying to maintain discipline. While cleaning up, the bottle cap to my soap fell in the stream and was washed away. After deciding to dig a hole and bury the entire contents of the bottle rather than have it leak all over my pack, I was again underway. A little while later, a wardrobe malfunction caused me to again have to problem solve. This was getting really out of hand at this point.  

The bright side of things this morning was the umbrella set up I came up with really worked well and I stayed quite dry through this morning’s downpour. Fortunately, it stopped raining, but it left the remaining trail quite slippery and there were a lot of pointless ups and downs (puds) and large rock gardens where the mountain largely looked like it threw up rocks. After seventeen miles, 3,874 feet of climb and nine hours of this, my feet were trashed, but I arrived at Canopis Lake Shelter. The key to hiking is maintaining a positive mindset, no problems, only solutions.  

Day 4, June 10, what would be my last day on the trail. The wheels finally fell off today. Literally. After fourteen miles, 2,936 feet of climb and almost nine hours of hiking, my trashed feet were bruised and compensating for foot pain was creating problems with gait and then creating problems with blisters. Today, I traveled from Canopis Lake to Graymor Friary in Grayson, New York. Not as much cruising today, but plenty of puds and massive rock gardens. I had adjusted my diet, mostly because I found that one of the foods I packed had pea protein in it and this does not sit well with me. My stomach was more stable today. About twelve miles into the hike, I really looked at the prospect of carrying on with the rest of the 40 miles I had left and decided that it was not worth the problems and to cut my losses. I arrived at Graymor at 1600 and set up camp for the night.  I set up an extraction the next morning with Carl, who dropped me off three days prior. 

The Spiritual Practice of Questing

I was supposed to stay with my cousin and her little boy after the hike. I messaged her about my situation, and she remarked, “you are quitting the hike?” I had to explain that I was not as I was getting off the trail and would return next year to get the last forty miles. That is how questing works. Life is a journey; you are always on a path of becoming. Questing is never done until you take your final breath.  

Questing is an ancient practice that many peoples have used across civilizations to clarify meaning or gain direction in their lives. Most famously, Jesus quests when he goes to the desert or wilderness to pray and gain direction over his life. Coming out of this experience, we observe him starting his public ministry. While my intention was to pray, study and learn, instead, I had to deal with problem after problem and had to create solution after solution. In my late twenties, I took up ultrarunning to deal with a career that was failing fast. I needed something harder than rebuilding my career and raising a family. Ultrarunning served as a 14-year quest to help me grow and mature as an adult and eventually launch my second career.  

What I Learned 

Often, the quester who is Questing is looking for answers or directions. This was not my case so much as I was just looking for a time to pray intentionally and just be in silence for six days. I talk for a living, so this was a great experience here.  

It was not all a failure. I got forty-six miles in for the week. I will go back next year and start where I left off. Perhaps the greatest lesson here is knowing when to walk away and take stock of where things are.  

What went wrong: 

My food, shoes, tent, sleeping pad, pillow, wardrobe and weight were all things that I had to figure out. Food wise, I had things dialed in too closely for what I do at home during a training week. I need to relax more with this when hiking. My tent was just a learning thing, it was a new tent. Condensation was a bit of a problem. I used a warmer weather pad; I should have brought a cold weather pad.  

What went right: 

My training was on point. I was strong throughout despite my foot issues. My water/electrolyte intake was on point. I had a good time…  


Browse Our Archives