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Gilligan on the AT Revisited: 16-May-1993

Date May 16, 2008

This is a 5-month long series of blog posts that are the entries in my journals written on most evenings as I hiked the Appalachian Trail in 1993. The journal entry appears first — indented — and then any additional commentary from my 15-years-removed perspective follows.

5/16/93 — Sun.

We made over 16 miles today, leaving just over 10 miles to get to the Rainbow Springs Campground. We went so far, I think, partly because it was relatively level, and partly because the campground (showers) is a pretty big carrot dangling in front of Dad’s and Dan’s noses. We are camped tonight at Betty Creek Gap.

Tomorrow, it’s Rainbow Springs, and then I will be on my own. Hopefully, I will be able to make Fontana Dam by Friday, and meet up with Dad there.

My thought/idea for today was to write a play about someone hiking the A.T. I didn’t get much farther than that, but it seems like all I need is a good idea for a main character, and I’d be off and running. I’ve got several months to get ideas from people I meet on the trail. We stayed last night in the shelter with a guy named Bush-Wack [sic] (real name: Victor). He had been hiking with Troll, but couldn’t quite keep up. He’s kind of a "free spirit," as Dad says with a certain amount of distaste. He was in the Army (stations in Panama for three years), has hiked a big chunk of the Pacific-Crest Trail, and most recently comes from working in a hotel in California. He doesn’t carry a stove — cooks his dinner on the fire every night. Every night he eats lentils, beans, rice, and barley (the same recipe Dad has) boiled for 30 minutes in water. For breakfast he eats oatmeal and hot chocolate mix mixed in cold water (yuch!). Sometimes he throws some Ramen noodles in with his dinner mix, for variety. He doesn’t eat lunch. It’s probably the cheapest way to go, but worse than any diet study I would ever do. When at a shelter, he still sleeps outside on clear nights (likes to sleep under the stars), his machete stuck in the ground near to his head (yes, his machete — almost 2 feet long). It’s probably a good thing that he sleeps outside — Dan says he’s one of the loudest snorers he’s ever heard, although it didn’t bother me. He’s an interesting character, all right.

There are also three guys who we have heard about but not seen: Turtle, Snail, and Slug. They started the day after we did, and they are loaded down with juggling equipment. Apparently, they’re quite good…at juggling. Rumor has it that their whole trip is planned out on the computer, but they are already down to one box of macaroni & cheese and are supplementing their diet with edible plants. They’re from Las Vegas, which just goes to build up my belief that that city produces some real wackos [sic]. Bets are that they haven’t made it out of Georgia yet and have little chance of finishing the trail. Bush-wack [sic] even said they were a strange bunch!

As it turned out, two of the three jugglers did indeed drop out fairly quickly. The third one continued on and actually flip-flopped. He’ll crop up some time in September, I think, as I spent the night with him in a shelter in New Hampshire or Maine. We’ll see if I manage to cross-link back to this post when we get there!

The play…never even got started. I’ve learned in the past fifteen years that, while I’m a decent writer, and I enjoy it…that’s only for certain types of work. I haven’t had a solid idea for a piece of fiction since I was in college, despite how much I enjoy reading it.

As for the diet study reference, while I was in college, a number of my fraternity brothers and I made some money on the side by participating in medical studies at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston. Most of the studies we did were ones where we were a control group for some sort of geriatric-oriented study. The exact format of the studies varied slightly from one to the other, but most of them meant we had to eat the same three meals — low sodium, and with portions measured out to the fraction of an ounce — every day for anywhere from 3 days to a couple of weeks. We had some input into what the meals were, but, let me tell you, nothing tastes good the fifth day in a row that you’ve had it for dinner! These studies were win-win, especially during MIT’s "Independent Activities Period" (IAP) every January — our house didn’t provide meals then, so this was a way to get paid several hundred dollars while also having our meals taken care of.

One downside was that, not only was there strict monitoring of our intake, but there was strict monitoring of our liquid output. For many of the studies, we spent every night in the hospital, but we were out during the day — lugging around a backpack with a gallon jug with a very good sealing lid.

We got to know the nurses in the Clinical Research Center (CRC) fairly well. Apparently, working in the CRC was a fairly sought-after gig, as the majority of the patients were actually…healthy. Occasionally, there would be overflow from the other beds in the hospital, but, for the most part, we had the run of the place and all enjoyed flirting with the nurses, who were very good sports.

One other aside about that whole experience. There were enough of us from the same fraternity cycling through on studies that were managed by the same doctor, that she noticed a pattern of anemia in her "healthy" test subjects. She actually put many of us on iron supplements and, if I recall correctly, called up our cook advising him to try to work some additional leafy vegetables and red meats into our menu! I don’t know that that did much good, as we payed poorly and wound up with a couple of real characters as cooks.

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