Surviving a night hike

Published 2:23 pm Friday, May 14, 2010

If you have forgotten who I am I can understand as it has been some time since my last submission to the Bulletin.

I apologize for the delay but Internet access has been scarce the past few weeks in the woods. To refresh your memory I am walking on the Appalachian Trail, a 2,175 mile footpath that runs from Georgia to Maine.&bsp; Each day I wake at sunrise strap on my 40-lb. pack and walk north. &bsp;

My goals for this journey are raising money for non-profit arts outreach program New Sense Studios, finding peace and time to reflect, and conquering the challenge of a through hike of the A.T.

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Its been a wild ride out here so far and I am now some 50-plus days into my journey. My beard has thickened, my waist has reduced, and my appetite more than doubled. I am beginning to settle into a routine and rain wind and hail seem to bother me less and less as the days move on. &bsp;

I have completed some 463 miles of trail and am now writing from a hiker hostel in Damascus, VA. As I mentioned I have now been walking for almost two months and am settling into life on the trail.

I suppose this is why about a week ago I got the bright idea to spice up my hike. It seems a part of human nature to always seek variety and change and out here it is no different. One chilly evening in the high country of Madison County, N.C. I decided I needed a bigger challenge than just hiking the A.T, one of the longest trails in the world, I decided I would do it at night.

I am no originator of the idea of night hiking, but after hearing rumors of the crazy hikers who climb the hillsides by moonlight I decided I wanted to see what it was all about. &bsp;

A normal day for me begins around sunrise, I get out of my sleeping bag, cook breakfast and then leisurely pack up camp beginning my stroll onto the trail by 8 a.m. I normally walk from 8 a.m. until dusk. I am now able to cover 14 to 22 miles a day depending on the terrain. &bsp;

During the day before my night hike I went into town, something thru-hikers normally do once every four to seven days. My town duties included checking for any mail or bounce boxes (resupply packages I ship to myself from home to replenish my necessary supplies), call friends and family, get a shower, laundry, and calorie up (the act of gorging yourself on town food normally consisting of burgers, fries, and a milkshake to store&bsp; energy for the hike ahead). &bsp;

I had finished all my duties and would normally be looking for a hostel or cheap hotel for the night but this was not any night, this was the night I was going to become a night hiker.

After I had completed my town duties I relaxed and waited for the rising moon. Around 9 or 10 p.m. a beautiful orange crescent moon rose above the horizon, and with the help of bright stars, illuminated the night.&bsp; My plan was four and a half miles to Big Bald, a steep up hill climb to a large grassy bald over five thousand feet in elevation overlooking the surrounding mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina.&bsp; &bsp;

I fired up my head lamp and started to walk. It didnt take long and I passed a tent presumably with a thru-hiker fast asleep, at that point I started to realize I am out here alone. The thought began to spread and each step my feet took my dreams grew. I am out here alone or am I? &bsp;

My mind was creating all sorts of monsters that were in the woods waiting for me first black bears or deer then snakes or even a crazed mountain hermit, soon I had lost all reasoning and thought for sure there were monsters and murders waiting around every turn.&bsp; Myself, a full grown man, I was nearly running now because of these thoughts and I started singing at the top of my lungs to forewarn any animals that I was approaching. &bsp;

I can just imagine a day hiker sitting by his evening camp fire witnessing me as I hiked by,&bsp; I am at a near sprint in the dead of night singing in fear, Hello Mr. Bear Im here do not fear Im just a dumb night hiker – what a scene! &bsp;

Nonetheless, steady was my sprint until I came around a corner of the rocky and steep trail. I was halted to a dead stop by the clamoring of feathered wings and a birds CAW CAW. I thought for sure that was it, its all over. The epitaph on my grave stone would read: here lies Matt, a 23-year-old, died in a tragic night hike consumed by the crazed man eating vultures of North Carolina. &bsp;

I had obviously lost it. I dropped my pack and took a seat right there in the middle of the trail.&bsp; I took a few deep breathes and regained my senses and realized I had only spooked up a couple of turkey vultures from their roost. &bsp;

I composed myself and then continued and in a few minutes I made to the bald, I checked the time. One hour and half, the section I completed done during a day hike would have easily taken me two and a half hours. &bsp;

I threw out my sleeping pad and bag and tried to allow my adrenalin to calm. I was exhausted so I cowboy camped, camping without a tent, under the stars. The next day I awoke cold to a water bottle frozen the night temps had dropped well below freezing.&bsp; While eating breakfast I reflected on my experience and decided to offer my official resignation and retirement as a night hiker from here on out I will stick to hiking in the day light.

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,