Archive for September, 2008

Where’s Karl: After-thoughts

September 20th, 2008

AT sign - Newfound Gap

During the last week, I have been thinking a lot about the AT a whole lot; reading people’s thru-hike stories, looking at pictures, and formulating a new way to backpack even lighter and more efficient than before all in preparation for a proposed future thru-hike in the next few years. Karl and his AT hike have completely opened my eyes and have taken my “sense of adventure” to a new level.

I’ve “known” Karl since about 2005. I considered myself an ultra-runner long before a hiker and in the world of ultra-running, everyone knows the name Karl Meltzer. He’s the 100 miler champ, reigning from the Wasatch Mountains in Utah. I remember reading a trail-runner magazine article featuring the “people of Hardrock”, featuring articles of folks who competed in the toughest (in my opinion) 100 miler in the US. Karl, having won this race numerous times, had a page featuring him. I remember reading it like it was yesterday, even though it was years ago, thinking to myself “here is a guy that has it all figured out”. I was impressed with his feats, with his lifestyle, and his approach.

When I saw a job opening for Backcountry.com in UT in January of this year that matched my expertise, I was excited, but I didn’t know many folks from the area. I had been following Karl’s blog and decided to e-mail him some questions about the area, thinking to myself “he’s too cool to respond to my e-mail”. I got a well-thought out response in a few hours, 5 paragraphs long. I was very happy to say the least.

Fast forward 7 months, and I was sitting in the RV multi-tasking; taking care of the whereskarl.com blog to the best of my ability, crewing for Karl, navigating where to go next, making sure we had supplies, etc. It was a great opportunity that I wouldn’t miss for anything. I love ultra-running and follow ultra-running like any SEC frat-guy follows college football, but unknown to a lot of my peers, I’ve had an AT thru-hike in the back of my mind since the first few years of high school. Flying to the east coast, I wasn’t sure what to expect. A little nervous, but definitely excited.

Right off the bat, I saw what I was getting into, and loved every second of it. I met a myriad of people associated with the AT. The first day in PA, I met Billy (aka Woodstock), TrailAngelMary, folks at the Doyle in Duncannon, several thru-hikers (Stilts was one of them), John DeWalt (one hell of an inspiration if I’ve ever seen), folks that came out to cheer Karl on (particularly Karl from Carlisle and his family), Karl’s parents, and of course Karl. This was all in the first day, and it was quite the whirlwind.

When Karl was running, he was all business, but at the end of that day, he was the most down-to-earth guy I had ever met. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s true. Karl is one heck of a nice, sincere, fellow. Any time someone came out to visit him and say hello, he would always take time to converse, discuss, and learn about the AT from the locals. The first night in the RV, a family from Carlisle PA has come out to see Karl – two kids wanted to talk to Karl and get a picture with him. Despite it being “past bedtime”, Karl was sincerely excited to have folks from the area come by. I was thrilled to see this side of Karl, and how genuine it was.

This is how it was for the next week with Karl. I met so many folks from PA, to MD, to WV, all the way to Daleville, VA. Every individual who I talked to touched me in their own unique way. I consider myself “AT knowledgeable”; I have section hiked quite a bit of it. I’ve done pretty much all of NJ and GA, all of the Smokies, all of Mt. Rodgers in SW VA, and I consider Front Royal down to James River my stomping ground (I’ve been hiking those parts since I was 7 years old). I knew the “where” of the trail, but didn’t get the “who”, “what”, and “why” of the trail until Karl and Billy gave me the opportunity.

The AT has an incredible culture. The trail is special not just because it’s remote for detachment, narrow for chosen company, winding for leisure, and lonely for contemplation, but because of the people that reach out and are willing to help folks who are on the trail. Terms like “trail angels” and “trail magic” are now happily in my vocabulary. As Billy reiterated, “it’s great to see folks who are willing to bend over backwards for strangers in this day and age”. I couldn’t agree more. I was only on the trail there for a week with Karl, but I am sure what I saw was the tip of the iceberg.

And as I try to write one more paragraph, sitting in my recliner drinking a beer after a long day of running on some trails here in UT, and fiddling around with my new “Tarp Tent Contrail” that I received in the mail this morning (I love it… thanks for the recommendation Billy!) I can’t think of what to say, but I believe Billy summed it up the best, so I’ll go ahead and copy and paste what he wrote:

I’m getting to see some things up close that have humbled me. Karl Speedgoat Meltzer is a great person filled with admiration for this trail and the highest respect for the record Andrew put down. I have seen a man walk out of here some mornings that almost brought tears to my eyes. It has not all been pretty to say the least. What he is doing is so far off most of our radar it’s impossible for me to communicate. He is the toughest human I have ever been around, period, end of story. If anybody wants to argue that, they can talk to me. This has been and continues to be a great challenge, an inspiration to my spirit, and a huge opportunity to be a part of a beautiful thing. I’m in love with this trail and I am fortunate to have the opportunity to help a good man and a good friend live out his dream. Go Speedgoat, you can do it man.”

Karl – savor the finish and enjoy Springer! I’m with you all the way… what you are doing is special and I am humbled to be a part of it.

– Greg