Becoming a vagabond

Published 3:20 pm Friday, April 16, 2010

My journey began on March the 6th in Northern Georgia from Amicalola State Park, since then I have made it some 250 miles north to Hot Springs, NC. &bsp;

In the past month I have learned much from my time in the woods.&bsp; One of the most rewarding things about being out here is witnessing yourself change.&bsp; The changes seem gradual slowly your smell, physical fitness, daily attire, and ability to eat change and the changes are not obvious until you encounter civilization which brings with it tourist and section hikers.

One of my favorite encounters was with a tourist as I came into town out of the Great Smokey Mountain National Park from a week in the woods, walking through town with pack on, my clothes still saturated by the smells and dirt of a week in the woods I waited for a light to change at a crosswalk.&bsp; While waiting I overheard the end of a conversation between a young boy and his mother. &bsp;

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Looking at me, the boy concerned turned to his mother and ask, why dont we help him?&bsp; To which his Mother responded, sometimes the church tries to help, but some of them are rebels.&bsp; The light changed and I smirked as I crossed the street it was official, I had reached the status of vagabond.&bsp; &bsp;

Such encounters with tourist remind you of your emergence into a lifestyle of drifting; carrying everything you need in a pack on your back. &bsp;

Entertaining as the young boy from the smokies was, the average encounter with a day hiker or tourist normally revolves around the same line of questions. I have become almost amused at my ability to predict the banter we share.&bsp; The day hiker is a well-dressed man or women, easily identifiable from afar by their poignant aroma of deodorant or perfume overwhelming the air around, they are decked out in fresh clothes and all the newest and cleanest gear, they approach.

Normally they stare at me and my dirty and haggard appearance, and then slowly, if daring, they speak up, So where ya headed? to which I respond, Maine. Watching the reactions is a form of entertainment out here. I see the train of thought move through their head and settle onto their face with a somewhat bemused look as they imagine the trek.

The next question is always, So how long does that take? I then respond, Six to seven months. From there, normally the next logical question is, So what do ya take?

Naturally, there are variations to this question, some folks cut to the chase wanting to know about one specific item most of the time they ask, Do ya take a gun? To that question the answer is No, its dead weight. The answer given, dead weight has become one of my favorite trail terms. Dead weight refers to any object which you can do without in your pack.

What do you take on a six to seven month trek through the woods, a very valid question? It has taken me some time to formulate an answer, and the answer is different for each hiker. I started my hike with a 46 pound pack which I quickly learned was much too much. Of course, the answer revolves around the basic needs of food, water and shelter but there are vast variations upon these basic needs.

It is a constant battle to try and cut weight. So when you find something you can do without you cerebrate leaving it behind as dead weight.

You would be amazed the things you can do without. I for example do not need the second half of my toothbrush; I only use the brush side, so the handle end has been cut off. Dead weight goodbye 3 oz. I carry only one pair of pants to hike in and one pair of tights for night, two shirts one for walking in and one for town. They both, however, smell pretty bad.

I have a sleeping bag a sleeping pad and a tent. I have one pot which doubles as a cup and a frying pan. I carry 20 yards of multipurpose rope for throwing my food up a tree to keep away from bears and mice, and for tying wet clothes onto my pack to dry.

I cook with a stove that weighs less than a pound. I have a first aid kit, a headlamp, and a water filter. I carry one book, one journal, one pen and an MP3 player for my entertainment. All of those contents along with a liter of water and four days of food, composed of dehydrated meats and pastas, fit neatly into a pack which I strap onto my back daily and walk with.

Hikers pride themselves on the lightness of their pack. Many a night of trail talk in shelters consist of comparing gear and boasting of losing an ounce here or there.&bsp; &bsp;

There is even a breed of hikers known as the light-weighters who can fit all their food, water, and shelter needs for four plus days into their pack and still weigh in less than 25lbs. Most of their ability to do this revolves around their knack to use things for multiple purposes.

For instance, taking a sleeping pad and putting it inside your rain coat as an extra insulating layer. These tips and tricks are what give hikers the ability to reach this amazingly low weight. It takes skill, time and comfort sacrifice to hone in a pack to this weight, and its an amazing feat to see. &bsp;

I have witnessed socks doubling as gloves, hiking sticks used as tent poles, Gatorade bottles used instead of canteens.&bsp; The list of ingenious multiuse items goes on and on all in order to shed some weight.&bsp;&bsp; &bsp;

Such is the normal encounter with a day hiker; after a little more chat of gear and the coming weather they nod their head and wish me good luck. &bsp;

I wave goodbye leaving their fragrance of deodorant and perfume behind I continue my journey north up the worn footpath they call the A.T

Matt Holt is Polk County High School alumnus, Class of 2005, and a recent landscape architecture graduate of N.C. State University. He is walking the 2,175-mile Appalachian trail to raise money for New Sense Studios (N.S.S.), an arts outreach program with the mission of engaging, supporting and inspiring Raleigh area youth through artistic expression.

To read more about Holts walk and the cause, go to his blog,