In early May of 2010, my dad dropped me off outside Helen, Ga., near a rural site affectionately known as “the Cheese Factory,” so called because this particular monument on the Appalachian Trail is located upon the remains of a burned-out cheese factory. There’s a nice freshwater spring there, along with a hiker’s shelter. It’s a great place to camp, if remote, and it sits on the upward ascent of a mountain which I think is named after some Cherokee tribe. They all are in that part of the world.
My dad dropped me off, drove away and I walked into the woods for two weeks. On my first day, I had lunch with some US Army Reserve dudes, who gave me an MRE and a introductory lesson in orienteering. It’s somewhat startling to be trucking along at mile eight of a 16-mile day and happen upon 12 guys in full camo carrying rifles. They had Kit-Kat bars, and I will say that their teriyaki chicken dish was stupendous.
I kept walking. I walked a whiff more than 100 miles over those two weeks, which is probably my proudest athletic achievement to date. I haven’t been out on an AT trip since then, and I need to get back out there, because backpacking is my favorite sport to ... play (?).
In June of 2012, not two years later, I walked into the Lohmarerwelt in northwestern Germany, a beautiful stretch of national forest that just keeps going. The Lohmarerwelt encompasses, mainly to the east, the town of Lohmar, Germany, my apparent nachname. Lohmar is a splendid little gem of a place forming the bottom right corner of a triangle with Köln and Muenster. I rented an Audi 3 and drove a billion miles an hour down the autobahn to Lohmar and went hiking for a few days. It is a hiker and cyclist destination, after all, and I needed to go.
It rained the entire time. It just fucking poured on me. Cooking became impossible and I nearly starved. Lohmar is where the German special forces maintain a training ground, and they helped me out on day three by giving me warm food and tea. I hiked with them for a day before their exercise ended and we had to part ways. I was ostensibly in Germany to learn German, and they were very patient with me as I fumbled through their beautiful language.
Ole Miss is in the woods right now. It’s pouring rain and the stove won’t fire off and please lord just let me eat this freeze-dried chili. There seems to be little in the way of an endgame here. Sure, the Nantahala Outdoor Center sits up there, 60 miles up-trail, but getting there is grueling country, and, well, my right PCL is shredded into nothing. Maybe we can get there, to the NOC, where there’s a bar and food and shelter, but we’re gonna need some help, and maybe it’ll come in the form of German special forces out on a training exercise.
It of course ultimately doesn’t matter what happens with the rest of this season, but there’s one theme that’s popped into my head to sustain fans and the team through the final stretch into November: to build a fire.