Before I started my hike I had logged way too many hours on WhiteBlaze.net, and knew I was gonna be a Purist!* Well mostly pure. I mean, I wasn't quite so anal that when I hitched into town from the south side of the road, then hitched back and got out of the car on the north side, that I'd feel compelled to walk back across the street to the south side to put on my pack and walk back to the north side so as not to miss 30 ft of "trail." If faced with a downed tree blocking the trail, I wouldn't push my foot under the tree as far as I could, then walk around the tree and push my foot in to touch the other footprint like some whose puriosity was decidedly greater than mine.
But I'd take the same trail out of a shelter area as the one I took in. I'd never blue-blaze*, never slack-pack*. I'd always leave my campsite better than I found it. And like any good purist, I'd loath yellow blazers*.
When I was almost 100 miles up the trail, I woke up feeling like a hot poker had been shoved into my knee. I spent three nights at Betty Creek Gap soaking it in a spring - hoping it was just a tendonitis. Hikers passing by told me that there was a blue-blaze around Albert Mountain, and that nobody would ever hold it against me if I took it ... Clearly those people had never been on Whiteblaze ...
That was The First Temptation of L.Dog. The next morning I summited Albert, by god!
I ended up going home from Rock Gap with a bursitis. I got it fixed, and went back to Maine that same summer to start a SOBO thru. If I hiked south to Rock Gap, that'd fit the definition of a flip-flop thru-hike. But in my mind, that just wouldn't be right. After all, I'm a purist! And I'm gonna hike with the pride that only a purist thru-hiker like me can! And now as a SOBO!
Baxter State Park's rules are that we leave our packs at the Ranger Station, and use a day pack to summit Katahdin. I didn't like that. I'd never never be able to say I carried my pack the whole way. But I did it cause I generally follow rules & regs.
But couldn't help feeling the shame that I had slack-packed ...
In the 100-mile wilderness, I was faced with another ethical dilemma. Do I stay on the trail, or take the Gulf Hagas loop? A trail considered to be one of the most beautiful on the eastern seaboard? I'd miss .7 mi of the AT. I considered alternatives, and indulged in rationalizations - "It adds miles, not subtracts them." "It's not like I'm skipping a summit here." It's only .032% of the trail, but it ripped my soul apart. It was The Second Temptation of L.Dog. I decided I would be stupid to miss that opportunity, and decided to take it.
In the two summits before I reached the Gulf Hagas loop, I was swarmed by black flies, and then by bees. When I stepped into the loop I was swarmed by butterflies. If that ain't validation by the gods, then I don't know what would be. So I became a blue-blazer ... I'd have to learn to accept that.
At a road crossing in Vermont, I met a group of late-running nobos who decided to avoid a trail relocation by hitching around it. I watched them climb into the back of a pickup. I was disgusted ...
I got to Manchester Center, discovered I had a hernia, and the doctor said I needed surgery. So I went home, got that fixed, and was faced with my next dilemma. With 640 miles under my feet, do I head out the next year for a third thru attempt? Or do I get back on at Rock Gap, and start hiking north towards VT? Do I become [gulp] a section-hiker?!
More hand-wringing. More rationalizations. (You know you'll get the same patch either way ...)
When I stepped back on the trail the next spring at Rock Gap, I had become a flip-flop-flippin', blue blazin', section hiker. I hiked 674 miles that spring, made it to the James River Footbridge, and went home in time for a family reunion. I passed every white blaze. The term LASHer was beginning to take hold. Long-Ass Section Hiker. I liked that. It resonated with me, and I adopted it.
Still didn't care much for yellow blazers' tho.
Got back on last spring and hiked north to Harper's Ferry. Met a couple of guys in Waynseboro who were gonna aqua-blaze to Harper's Ferry, and I wished them luck. In Shenandoah, I met a couple of hikers who had left the trail for family things, then yellow-blazed to catch up with friends - vowing to return to make up the miles. I enjoyed my time with them immensely, and wished them luck with their thru.
Who am I to judge?
Next spring I'll flop back up to Manchester Center, and hike south to Harper's Ferry as a 99.968% pure, flip-flop, flip-floppin', blue-blazin', slack-packing' long-assed section hiker. Hopefully I have learned not to be too judgmental of those with whom I share the trail. After all, everyone who hikes the spine of the Appalachians ultimately hikes their own hike.
Tell me what you think. How pure is pure enough?
* See The Vernacular for definitions