We carry AWOL’s AT Guide to know where we are, what’s ahead, and what the elevation profile will be. It also has maps of trail towns and info about hostels and other services (price, special rules, whatever). It’s one of the most vital things we carry, and looking through it to “see our future”, as we say, never gets boring. But my favorite feature of the book are these mysterious notations at various mile markers (used as landmarks).
Usually it’s something simple and self explanatory, like “431.4, power line” or “530, church 100 yards east”. Occasionally it’s something I see ahead of time and look forward to, sometimes for days, to find out what it is. Somewhere in Tennessee there was “massive stone wall”, which intrigued me but was pretty much just that. There was also “Hardcore Cascades”, which were not so hardcore in my opinion. The top of Unaka Mountain had the note “dense spruce forest”, which turned out to mean amazing fairy tale landscape of plush pine needles and dappled light. And with waterfalls, you never know what you’re going to get. Once we took a .2 side trail to “Jones Falls” which was a towering and breathtaking cascade. Other “waterfalls” are less worth a side trip, but it’s your gamble each time.
The ultimate goal of this adventure is Maine, but that’s rarely what motivates me in each day. That’s just too far away. Usually I’m just trying to get to some weird thing, some “pond” that might be really pretty and might be a mud puddle. It’s little accomplishments like cresting a hill and realizing “Hey that’s ‘rock pillar’!” that make each day fun, an adventure all in its own.