Monday, October 23, 2006

Wheels Down

Mile: Home

The brightness of the sun makes sunglasses mandatory, at least until these eyes get used to my home state again. The water and thickness of the air makes me feel like I am drowning, a feeling not aided by my deep chest congestion. Running is a sweatbath. Sometimes in Pennsylvania or NJ when I felt it was humid, I had totally forgotten what real humidity is. Sand drags at my steps, and for whatever reason, the first joint of my big toe has become stiff and swollen. It's the body's way of saying, "We're taking a break now, you bastard from hell".

Tomorrow I'll have been home for a whole week. The smells and sensations of home are coming back to me, and it doesn't seem quite so much like Venus anymore. The world around me seems almost unchanged, and I remember how short a time six months is in the land of the grown-ups. Six months used to go by without me hardly noticing. In my subjective world, though, six months can last a lifetime. People sometimes ask, "What was your trail name?"

"Mash," I reply, sort of embarrassed, then I am overwhelmed by a sense of dissonance, remembering the name I answered to for six months. It's no accident that the first thing a cult does is give its members new names. Our names are the root society has into us. Our names are the user id and password combination. When we change names, we change our user base. User John Mogilewsky has been reactivated, although I haven't revoked Mash's access to /home. Not yet.

This journal is no longer a trail journal, although I will probably still continue to update it with interesting tidbits from the worlds of history, science, and whatnot. Thanks for following along.


You know your branch of academics is in trouble when its dirty laundry is aired in the New Yorker. The recent article on the state of string theory is a pretty good example. I've always sort of felt that the string theorists needed to pull themselves in just a little bit, since you need truly Star Trek gadgets to test even the least of their predictions. No, scratch that, you need gadgets a few magnitudes beyond the energies harnessed in Star Trek.

But on the other hand, I don't think the anthropic principle, and particularly the multiple-universe incarnation thereof, should bring out so much ugliness in the anti-string theory crowd. It's just a tad disingenuous. Anthropic principles are not limited to string theory. In one way or another, the anthropic dilemma has been with us since Einstein-Bell, and before that. It's the nature of the quantum beast. It's why the standard model of modern physics splits things into objective, Einsteinian reality, and bizarre, Daoistic subatomic reality. The two realms rarely intersect, except at the terminii of universes, inside the event horizon, and, apparently, in the complexity of the human mind.

I say the last one half-jokingly, but in truth, there seems to be something to this, at least to my sleep-deprived mind trapped here in the airport. What if what looks like an anthropic principle in modern physics is just the manifestation of a lower order of physical law? What if the very existence of complexity, when it exceeds a certain limit, affects the behavior of elementary particles in a way analagous to the way mass affects space-time? If mass is tied to complexity, it would explain the relationship between anthropics and quantum observations.

Mass and complexity would seem to have a one-way relationship; you can have mass without complexity but it'd be pretty hard to have a critical mass of complexity without a relatively dense mass. You could argue that certain primitive forms of material, gluon plasmas and the like, can sustain complexity, but the energy needed to maintain exotics is too high- to have enough time to reach some sort of critical level of complexity in such material you'd need more energy than is present in the visible universe. Mass and complexity are very good friends, but it does not at first glance appear that it's a two-way street.

Until you take into account that complexity allows mass to avoid losing density through energy release. Your brain, a complex organ, allows your body to walk across the street without losing mass due to energy, or collision with little old ladies in Lincoln Towncars. Feedback mechanisms in stars work the same way, most of the time, except for those times they fail spectacularly.

We won't sidetrack into the secret lives of stars and stellar masses. But complexity can help mass out. Complexity navigates the multiple worlds and finds the best one; mass gathers all potential to itself. As things get more massive, they get more inevitable, until you get to something like a primordial black hole, or, if you add sentient complexity to the mix, an intelligent agent that is possible everywhere, from which there can be no ultimate escape. It's a shame that just when you think you have a good grip on some cosmological problem, Yahweh has to make an appearance. Hi, Yahweh.

Seriously, though, what if the complexity of galaxies and the visible universe *is* some sort of possible-universes-scheme by the sentient black holes to encompass all possible realities. This sentence makes me sound like I should be committed, so I'll stop there, or maybe write a short story about it. Ziggy Stardust and the Black Hole Archons.

But we can, I think, safely play with the assumption that complexity is tied with mass. Mass gathers all that potential where complexity can occur.

To bring all this back to tying mass and complexity with subatomic systems, it would be interesting to see if the existence of complex systems force strings into new harmonics, as the complex systems suck up the local information available to the strings. The harmonics may just be adjusting to the complexity of the observational system. The string harmonic would be like a gerbil hyperventilating while stuck in a locked airtight room with a string theorist, with fifty magnitudes difference in proportion.

Seriously, though, these sorts of tests are devilish to pull off, because quantum states do not like staying in the state they are observed in. Someone managed an experiment something like this late last century using lasers and Bose condensates and space robots, but I'll be damned if I can remember how the hell it worked.

Ah well, so much for the link between quantum physics, mass, and complexity. It's time to return to the social sciences before landing, so I can throw myself into areas I might still be competitive in, even at the ancient age of thirty-one.

Totally off topic, but after so long in the wild, flying in a plane is a whole new experience, like being trapped in a vast beast of limitless power. The pressurization of the compressors, the throttle on the tarmac- it really feels like the tightening of muscles before a leap. A thousand mile leap into the air. We humans do have some cool tricks, and the JetBlue Airbus 320 I'm on is one of them.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Delmonico's circa 1834

The Inn at St. John's, Portland, ME
Waiting for the flight

There's a copy of what is supposedly the first regular menu in the United States here at the Inn in Portland, from Delmonico's Restaurant in New York. The menu is quaint but intensely interesting. The prices of foodstuffs were proportionally much different back then- the roast chicken is twice as much as roast mutton, for example. A decent fraction of the menu is dedicated to "& Cabbage" dishes: sausage and cabbage, corned beef and cabbage, pig's head and cabbage, and the ill-defined "knuckle & cabbage".

I really can't make fun of this British-American fascination with cabbage, since last night I ate a pint of kimchi from the Korean supermarket, and kimchi might just be the least rational cabbage-based product ever to arise from the hand of man. I would love to take some on the plane but that would doubtless lead to imprisonment or my being shot by sky marshalls.

They make good kimchi in Portland, which means it smells bad. I mean, really, really bad. It's not stuff you necessarily want to eat indoors.

And now, the Bill of Fare, circa 1834, with prices following each item.


Delmonico's Restaurant
494 Pearl St

Cup of Tea or Coffee-.01
Bowl of Same- .02
Soup- .02
Fried or stewed Liver- .02
Hash- .03
Pies- .04
Beef or Mutton Stew- .04
Corned Beef & Cabbage- .04
Pig's Head & Cabbage- .04
Sausage & Cabbage -.04
Knuckle & Cabbage- .04
Fried Fish- .04
Beef Steak- .04
Pork Chops- .04
Pork & Beans -.04 (What the hell? I mean, pork and beans?)
Sausages- .04
Puddings- .04 (The pudding of this time was probably more like a rindless sausage than anything we think of as pudding, and could be made from blood, innards, brains, what-have-you)
Liver & Bacon - .05
Roast Beef or Veal- .05
Roast Mutton- .05
Veal Cutlet- .05
Chicken Stew- .05
Fried Eggs- .05 (I have no idea where this price comes from, although I think the lack of refrigeration in 1834 might have made eggs a bit more of a luxury then than now, and it's also probable that a fried egg in 1834 was more something like a Scotch Egg than sunnyside up)
Ham & Eggs- .10
Hamburger Steak- .10 (Big spender! Again, a hamburger must have been something different in 1834)
Roast Chicken- .10

Name Not the Shadow

It's very hard to sleep in motel rooms. Hopefully I get the knack back, the ability to sleep in the city.

So until I finally pass out in a puddle of my own drool, I'm watching hour after hour of Law and Order. I find myself growing increasingly angry at the psychologist who is pulling demons from the cop characters in the show. It's a bit of a side plot, this head-shrinking, but it seems cruel and ultimately self-defeating. By pulling demons from their cop souls, this useless shrink is making the shadows real. You've got enough problems being a cop without having to second or quadruple guess yourself just because some jackass wants a writeup of your "psychological health", whatever the hell that's supposed to be, since I've seen absolutely piss-all in terms of actual consistent medical practice that shows what constitutes mental "health".

This pulling shadows, naming shadows . . . It's the equivalent of jumping off a cliff to see how far down it goes.

I know the bottom is very far away. I know there are bad little boxes inside me and inside all of us. So effing what? We put them away in careful little shelves inside us and we run on. Run, run, run, run, run, until it stings in our lungs, saltwater in our eyes, burn in our shoulders. It's the thick voluptous stuff of life, where our insides meet the outside, that is the vertex surface of conscious experience. The rest is just neurons, atoms, the shifting strings and gums (and God knows what other exotic nine-dimensional shapes) of the reality grid. We live in the interface. Psychiatry (and, to some extent, all post WWII aesthetic thought) wants to take that away from us.

I've always hated psychiatrists.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The AT Evaluation

Bangor, ME

Unless you are needing to give life a good kick in the pants, there's no real scenic reason to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. Maybe ten percent of the trail is worth a good vacation; the rest of the miles are drudging, viewless climbs through somewhat less-than-notable second-growth forest. The Smokies, the Roan Highlands of Tennessee, Grayson Highlands and McAfee Knob in Virginia, some of Vermont, the Whites, and Katahdin are all worthy of visits. I can't be objective about the Smokies. They're where I vacationed as a child in the summer, and they are where I first fell in love with the outdoors. Some folks have a much less positive impression of them.

The trail starts brutally, with steady two thousand foot climbs and drops up and down Georgia clay. No rocks, but if there's any water on the trail at all the clay is incredibly slippery. This trend holds until you get near Virginia. The Roan Highlands are the incredible centerpiece of the southern section. I'd recommend an overnight trip starting at Roan mountain, spending the night at the gorgeous Overmountain Shelter, and finishing at Mountain Harbor Bed and Breakfast.

"Virginia is flat," so say locals and ex-thru-hikers with a perverse sense of humor. It's not flat in any way, and it's five hundred miles. I've known thru-hikers who have taken two months to get through that state. It's the state that breaks your spirit. There's pretty much nothing notable between Grayson and the Shenandoahs, except for McAfee knob, which is an OK summit. You could skip from Grayson in VA to Greylock in MA without missing an awful lot.

Get ready for the civil war state! I have great memories of Maryland. The trail in this state follows the great skirmishes around Antietem, a plaque every ten miles documenting your hike around that field of slaughter. Through MD And southern PA you can get town food every day, right on the trail. Stop at Caledonia State Park, Pen-Mar's pizza delivery, and Pine Grove Furnace for the "Half-Gallon Challenge", where through hikers race through half-gallon size portions of ice cream, to celebrate the halfway point.

Pennsylvania up to Port Clinton is really honking boring, but at least it's passable. Northern PA is nasty, nasty trail, and if I had a time machine I'd go back and tell myself to skip this section. Defining experience: after an attack of clear vomit during a one hundred and seven degree day, I collapsed in a shelter, cursing the ridiculous boulder field they called a trail. I hear a truck engine. This guy pops out of a pickup a dozen yards from the shelter. "Hiya there," he said, "I'm the Ridge Runner for this section!" If I wasn't so blasted I would have killed him with my bare hands. Ridge runner!? Ridge Driver, more like. When was the last time you saw this goddamned trail?

The saving grace of PA was Palmerton, which was easily the friendliest trail town of the whole trip. Doubly impressive considering the whole town sits on top of a toxic Disneyland, the EPA superfund site I might have mentioned.

I raced through the mid-Atlantic so fast I hardly remember it. The Low Point at Bear Mountain Zoo was fun (124' in elevation). Crossing the Hudson was awesome. Hiking with Tin Man. Seeing Monica, getting engaged.

Once you get to Vermont, really, after Greylock, things get really scenic again. And they get scenic very fast indeed after you get to NH. I can't talk up the Whites enough, and really, southern Maine is gorgeous too. Southern Maine is also home to Mahoosuc Notch, which although it is not the "hardest mile", it is the slowest. It took me an hour, but non-thru-hikers generally want to allow four or six hours for navigating the notch.

And then Northern Maine, where the climate definitively changes to Canadian, and the trail gets intensely muddy. You fly through the wilderness- although the warning signs say to bring ten days of food, even novice hikers will probably not need more than seven, and there are resupply points in between. The fine folks running White House Landing winter in Anna Maria Island, funny enough. I told them I'd drop by when I got home. It seems a lot of people on the trail in Maine winter in or near Bradenton.

Then the big K, or Miss K, Baxter Peak, Katahdin. Easily the best summit on the trail, even without the emotional underpinnings. It's also the most challenging.

I'm just starting to get used to the idea that I'm not climbing mountains anymore. My hands are shaking. I have way too much excess energy. My kingdom for a stairmaster!

Lord knows I'm going to need one, and fast. I'm trying to eat well now, but my body still wants enormous quantities of food. I've lost thirty five pounds, and have a resting heart rate just shy of fifty BPM. I won't be able to keep this kind of shape (ten to twelve hours of aerobic exercise a day is a great way to live, but doesn't exactly pay the bills), but hopefully I can add enough muscle to this somewhat depleted frame so that my metabolism stays high.

Thanks to everyone back home for all the support- sometimes it was the emails from home that made it all worthwhile. We thru-hikers forget, sometimes, exactly the scale of this thing we do. A lot of the time we just sort of feel like hobos. "It's a very thin line between being a thru-hiker and being a vagrant". But the emails from home reminded us of who we are, and helped to restore a bit of our dignity.

And more than anyone else, a huge thank you to my future wife Monica, who's really been supernaturally patient with this whole project.

Time to get that flight set up. Time to go home.

And . . . What's this? A book about the Pacific Crest Trail?

Interesting . . .

Gear After Action Report

Bangor, ME

My Vasque full boots blew out before I got to Hot Springs, not even three hundred miles up the trail. It's excusable because the Vasques had done everything from trail work to office duty in the three years I owned them. I rarely wore anything else, and so they died very early.

The Innovate trail runners I got in Hot Springs were the best shoes I had on the trail. Light, very grippy soles, and protected with a full-length rigid shank. Tragically, it's a small British company and the only place I ever saw them was in Hot Springs, else I'd have walked the whole trail with these things.

The Hi-Tech trail runners I got in Harper's Ferry win the value prize. Less than forty dollars, but they got me to New Hampshire from Harper's.

The absolutely worst shoes of the entire trail are the Merill trail runners I got in North Woodstock,NH. The soles blew out less than thirty miles up the trail. I summitted on a mess of shoe goop and duct tape. That's a brand I'm not touching again.

I had what I consider the best tent on the entire trail, a Brawny Tarptent, made by Dancing Light Gear (which I learn has since gone defunct). 19 oz with a sewn-in floor and full bug protection. I love that tent. Unfortunately, like pretty much all my gear, the tent is trashed and needs serious rehab to be used again.

The Granite Gear Ozone backpack (2003 model) lasted the whole trail with no complaints. Less than three pounds but padded like a Byzantine throne.

I cooked on a little alcohol stove the whole trip with no problems. Alcohol, unlike cannister fuel, you can get anywhere, and unless you carry ungodly amounts of fuel, it's lighter than a cannister stove too. So long as you're just cooking for one person. Then physics step in, and cannister stoves become more efficient.

The Leki Ultralight Makalu trekking poles just about died as I came down from Katahdin. Their locking mechanism failed halfway down, and I had to break them up and stow them away. They needed new tips in Delaware Water Gap, but other than that, proved to be good poles. Leki promises to repair them at no cost.

The Campmor 20 degree down bag is hands down the best value in a sleeping bag anywhere. Less than two hundred dollars, 32 oz net weight, and a very cozy 20 degree rating (if you wear all your clothes in the bag this thing could easily take you to 0). A 20 degree bag is all you'll need on the AT, unless you plan on starting in February or something. You could probably go with a 32 or a 40, actually. I didn't have any trouble with down, although if it were a wetter year the down bag would have been useless- it loses all its insulating loft when it absorbs moisture.

Get a good food bag before you start. The Outdoor Research Hydrolight is a nice one. If your food bag is not waterproof it will start smelling like a dumpster, which really screws with your appetite.

Finally, this Palm TX has lasted the whole trail, and allowed me to journal from pirated signals the entire trail. Much more durable than I ever thought it would be.

Ice and Stone

Mount Katahdin, ME
Mile Last

We get up in the same way we have gotten up for hundreds of mornings. The sky is not yet light. First people up blow puffs of steam, then break out their cigarettes and pipes, filling the shelter with tobacco and pot smoke. Sleeping bags get rolled up first, to destroy the temptation of curling up in them again. Thermorests get rolled. Breakfast is broken out, and after we eat it, we go to the ranger station to fill in the form, under a gray sky of freezing rain.

If we do not return the form by the end of day, they will send Blackhawks to look for us. In this northerly climate, in this time of year at Katahdin's elevation, lightly equipped hikers can not be expected to survive above the treeline after dark. We pack daypacks with essentials, leave our big packs at the ranger station and head up.

The four thousand foot climb up Katahdin is concentrated in a one point five mile boulder scramble. I remember looking at the mountain from the wilderness, all excitement drained from me by wet and an incipient fever. Shouldn't be so bad, I thought, looking at the approach from the totally wrong angle. From the angle the AT actually uses, it is that bad. The day packs save us. We become quadrupeds on the way up, scared apes on the way down. It's a scary ridge. Concentrate too much on how high you are and you'd fall. You have to have a good sense of here-ness. This rock is here. I am here. I am going to the next rock.

After the scramble we are in the Katahdin Tablelands. It's a shockingly civilized climb from this point on, past Thoreau spring, so named for the prissy little bastard who never made it this far up the mountain. It's fantastic, like the Presidentials, but without the AMC presence, and the snackbars. On to the summit.

I break into a run for the last three hundred meters. Sprint to finish! People on the summit cheer. The run is a broken dancing thing, across rocks and scree, but it feels good. My body is so changed that when I summit I do not feel particularly winded. Holy Jesus in Heaven, I think, there's no time on Earth I've been in this shape. I've just run uphill for scores of meters and my lungs don't even notice.

It's freezing up here, literally. I avoid ice patches because they glow like polished stone. Don't step on the shiny bits. The view is incredible. I can see Avery Peak, more than a hundred trail miles back. My hands hurt. My nose really hurts. I don't feel either.

The sign. Katahdin. Northern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail. I feel curiously empty. Another crazy ass mountain. It's done. I'm done.

Coming down it is another matter entirely. It is by far the most treacherous part of the entire trail. The alternate route down Knife Edge looks even worse, not something I'd ever want to tackle without some real climbing gear. Hopping Gautama Buddha, do I have to walk down that?

Yes you do, says the Buddha.

And then I am down. I'm coming home..

Hundred Mile Enron

The Hundred Mile Wilderness, ME
Mile: 2152

Given a certain number of hours bog-hopping, any person will get his or her feet wet. Jet Li may take a thirty hours, Deputy Colchrane of Hazzard County may take thirty seconds. It takes me three hours or so of solid root and rock hopping before it happens. Bog jumping is like dodging bullets: you only need to make the mistake once. One slip, your foot is wet. And what the hell, if one foot is wet, why not both? Then you can just tromp through the bog and stamp out miles, instead of mincing about on rocks and roots and trekking poles.

But then we have a quandary: why not just stomp into the bog at once and make the miles from the get go? Because we do not know where the bog begins and ends. When we start bog jumping, we are doing it in the optimistic hope that the bog will take less time to traverse than we can expect our reflexes to hold out.

This hooks into an interesting study on loss aversion I alluded to a few weeks ago. In it, we see people turning down a 50/50 $100 bet that offers 150 on a win and 0 on a loss. Well, it's easy to criticize people for turning it down, but maybe their intuitive distrust of the situation is a good survival strategy.

For example, the game assumes the odds stay the same throughout the play time. What if they don't? What if the odds improve later, or start bad and get better? Then other players "in the know" get ahead, which brings in a whole lot of other very unscientific feelings.

Or say that one player has 200 to start the game, and another has a grand. The guy with a grand has a much better chance of not being shut down, where the guy with 200 could get shut down after one bad break. This is why you distrust fund managers who advise retirees to take risky investments. The retirees have no more cash coming in- if it's all or nothing and you go broke, you are done.

And if the client is also your employee, you open up a whole other set of risks. Like them wanting to kill you. Slowly.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Last Town

Somewhere north of Monson
Mile 2070-ish
The Hundred Mile Wilderness is not quite so wild as one would expect. "I can drive you anywhere in the Wilderness", said Buddy, a local Trail Angel and all around good guy. So I've taken advantage of the driver to slack me through a few dozen miles. Slackpacking is the practice of hiring a driver to pick you up at the end of the day, so you don't need to carry a heavy pack. Without a pack, you can literally jog down the trail, covering twice the distance normally possible. It's nice. You're a lot more agile when running than you are when walking.
This morning we are getting dropped off for real. I probably won't be updating this journal until after I summit Katahdin, from the town of Millinocket. Less than a hundred miles left.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Avian Culture

There's not a lot of birdsong in Maine. It's a largely silent wood, apart from the rut moans of moose. It makes one reflect on the rich birdsong of the woods further south. The texture of the call and reply was something to marvel at. To be honest, the complexity of the calls seemed to indicate that a fairly high degree of information exchange was taking place. It would hint at the existence of culture.

Avian neurons are capable of some amazing feats compared to their mammalian counterparts- bird brains can do a lot more with less. Pepperberg's work with African Grey parrots has, in anecdotal evidence, shown that these amazing birds are capable of manipulating symbols through language, human language at that.

I'm reminded of how Europeans, when exposed to the oceancraft of the Polynesian voyagers, immediately assumed that the human brain was capable of innate directionfinding. Naturally these primitives were incapable of developing skills on their own. As it turned out, the Polynesians simply had incredible cultural tools to find land without compasses or maps, by analyzing wave patterns.

Researchers have been looking for magnetic sense in birds for a very long time. Some evidence has been found, some is lacking. What if the bare spots in this research is filled in with an avian culture? Parents teaching children how to read the lay of the land, how to find their way along a coastline?

It's not too farfetched, After all, we are sitting where we are because a few primates managed the same trick, and so many others.

Who we are

Northern Outdoor Lodge
Caratunk, ME
Mile 2018

Who are through-hikers?

They are:

7 retirees
An airplane mechanic
8 college graduates
An offshore crab fisherman
A data architect
5 software QA staff (plus me, I suppose, although I never really thought of myself as a QA person. I was more like a professional pain in the ass.)
3 sales executives
A restaurant tycoon
An executive at a CRS company
An IT professional at Cendant, my former employer
2 ex-Rangers
1 ex-Recon Marine
A golden retriever
An ordnance loader on an aircraft carrier
A small print shop owner
A real estate entrepreneur
A nuclear engineer on an unnamed nuclear missile submarine
One technical writer (plus me)
An adventure swimmer
A burglar
A gourmand and caterer
A lawyer for the tobacco lobby
A wildcat oilman, swordfighter, and expert in archaic weapons of all varieties (seriously)

And many, many others I did not have the pleasure of meeting. With two exceptions, they are all good people, and a few of them are exceptional people, people I would not mind knowing for a lifetime.

It's who we are.

Deep What?

Little Bigelow Shelter, ME
Mile 2002

Deep Survival endorses, somehow, the fact that survival in extreme situations is the result of the survivors' competence. I take issue with that hypothesis: the primary decider in extreme situations is luck, and lots of it. But given the hypothesis, he makes some interesting assumptions about the nature of a survivor.

If any through-hiker were to follow his rules for survival, for example, they would never, ever finish the trip. "If you're sweating in cool weather, you're working too hard". Horse puckey. You go until you can't go any further, then you find something inside that makes you go beyond that. I've hiked until I felt like the mountain was beating me, extravagantly and at leisure, like the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse beats Nicholas Cage in Raising Arizona. No need to squirm or wiggle, I remember thinking. The heavy blows come all the same.

It seems that there are two personae in extreme situations- one is the survivor, and another is the acheiver. The two types have little in common. After all, survivors specialize in getting out of trouble. Acheivers specialize in getting into it.

That said, it's still a pretty good book, with some good real-life lessons in it. Survival is a very important part of acheivement after all.

As a postscript, it turned out to be a good decision to get off Washington when I did- there were three Lifeflights from the Presidentials that evening. I'm glad not to have been on any of them.


Harrison's Camp, ME
Mile 2014

Maine is flattening, and will continue to do so until I get to Katahdin. Ten days left now. I'm starting to feel, once again, as if I am on an exceptionally long vacation, rather that a slog across the width of the country. With that comes the realization I will be out of the mountains again. I'm making strategies in my head to adjust to normal life, while keeping up a high level of physical activity.

Harrison's is a paradise. It's an old fashioned wood-heated fish and game camp, with a twelve pancake breakfast. "We only feed this to through-hikers", said Tim Harrison. "It'd kill anyone else." He might be right. But the view from the dining room wouldn't kill anyone. Pierce Pond Creek cascades across a little valley, with Pierce Creek Falls visible up the ravine. Bluegrass plays softly in the background, and I take a break from stuffing my face. The fall colors are peaking too, the valleys look like they're made of stained glass.

It's shocking how little time you have as a through-hiker, to just sit and look. You're either pumping at hills furiously, eating, or sleeping. Stop and look, though, and you see heaven on earth. I remember a piece of dialogue from Voyage of the Dawn Treader:

"I'm not sure if I can take much more of this, but I don't want it to stop"

Near the beginning of this trip I thought of this line often, and now, near the end, it comes to mind again.