Welcome. You're about to hop on the Appalachian Trail and become part of the 2009 thru-hike of Chris Hennig, whose trail name was "Feed Bag." While Feed Bag took in all the personal benefits of spending hours alone in the woods (getting in better shape, crying, pondering the meaning of life), there is a purpose greater than that for which he hiked: to make the world a better place for children. And you can be a part of this journey starting now...and help make a difference!

Start Date: 3/29/09 End Date: 9/5/09

Well, it’s not Franklin, TN, but it’ll do.

Filed under: Blog Posts — chrishennig @ 4:18 pm April 8, 2009

Get comfortable. No, seriously, go to the bathroom now, get a drink, and get comfortable. This will be a good, long read :)

I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Franklin, NC. I hadn’t planning on arriving here until this morning (4/8) but after hiking 16 miles yesterday while snowing, I thought I’d reward myself with an actual full day off and 2 nights in a normal bed…

Last Sunday (4/5) was the toughest day on the trail so far. I wasn’t ready for the heat. That morning I even made time to attend a nice, little country church and set off around 12:30pm on the trail. I had only planned on going 13 miles, not too far. I only made it 10. At about 9.9 I reached my first state line, the GA/NC border. What should have been a fun celebration was a mere landmark. There were people there celebrating, which lifted my spirits a bit, but I just didn’t feel good. It was hot, the bugs were out in full force, it was mostly uphill for those 10 miles, I was worried about the weather report, and I had bad Mexican food the night before. Not a good combination.

I enjoy staying at shelters as opposed to just campsites because shelters offer an outhouse and a table for cooking meals. Instead I had to pitch my tent at a campsite with neither. While there were 6 or 7 other tents around (you’re never lonely in the evenings), I was miserable.  I was worried I had some sort of stomach bug, or I just hadn’t had enought to eat or drink. I fetched water while being eaten alive by the bugs, cooked my dinner, spilled half of it on the ground, and got in my tent around 7pm in order to fall asleep as quickly as possible, forget about the day, and start new the following day. My mind was racing about how uncomfortable I was. I only had one goal when waking the following day: hike 3 miles to the next shelter and use the outhouse.

It’s common practice in the back-country to dig a “cathole,” do your #2 into the ground, and bury it over. Before getting into my tent I tried this little maneuver with no luck. Couldn’t do it. So the next morning I set off as quickly as possible. I made it to the outhouse, felt better afterwards (aren’t you enjoying getting to know me better?), and hiked a total of 15.5 miles to make up for lost time. It was a great day! It was snowing most of the afternoon, but it was beautiful. I might as well been walking in Mushaboom, Nova Scotia, and listened to the song during the last mile or so of the day. (If you’re unfamiliar, google the Feist song “Mushaboom.”) Sunday = worst day. Monday = favorite day. Based on what? Comfort and peace of mind. Was I ever in danger? No. Worst case scenario? Bad stomach bug and I could have walked 10 miles back down the mountain to the road and gotten help, no problem.

It was very cold Monday night (4/6). Woke up to more sleet on the ground (4/7), and proceeded to hit my highest miles (16 miles in around 7 hours), highest altitude (around 5500ft) and got off the snowy mountain. There is no snow on the ground here in Franklin. A few miles up the road and a 1000 feet up the next mountain, inches to a foot.

I’m not sure if I made this very clear in my intro/bio…I lived a very comfortable life last year, and all the years before that, but last year especially. I love traveling and was paid to do so for my job. I slept in hotel beds more than my own last year, and slept better because of it. I worked for a traveling exhibit we set up in gymnasiums and churches to teach people about the AIDS pandemic in Africa. While an uncomfortable subject for some, it was still a rewarding experience to see change happen.

Part of the reason for wanting to depart from such a comfortable lifestyle was to put myself in a position to understand just a fraction of what the rest of the world lives like. One of my sponsor kids, Fabricio, lives in Honduras, and James lives in Kenya. Granted, comfort for me requires so much more than what the rest of the world can survive with. Because of where Fabricio and James live, they may be completely comfortable with not showering everyday or having a nice, plush bed to sleep on. But what happens when their stomachs hurt from lack of food or after drinking bad water? Can kids like them hike 10 miles to a road and hitch a ride into the nearest hospital? I’m not sure about most kids living in those types of desperate situations. But what I do know about my sponsor kids is that because World Vision is working in their communities, Fabricio and James now have more of something that I’ve never lacked: hope. Sure, I was laying in my tent Sunday night, wondering what I’d do with 2200miles.com if I decided to quit the trail, if it wasn’t my cup of tea, and I had to go home to get a normal job. But I never lost hope that I’d survive.

World Vision isn’t just providing kids with a “hope to survive.” Our goal is to provide kids, their families, and their communities with an opportunity to thrive. It starts with basic needs (clean water, good food, medical care) but then moves on to community development through microloans and other forms of economic development. Can you imagine what it means to a person when they realize that not only are they going to survive, but now they get to use their talents and skills to provide for themselves and others? That’s life in all its fullness.

I’m so comfortable in towns like Franklin, NC. I’m good at being a stranger and tourist in smalltown America. Having a nice bed to sleep on, free wireless Internet over a cup of coffee (iced, of course), and restaurants everywhere is going to make every trail town hard to leave and enter another 3-6 days of mild discomfort. I’m not going to tell myself “whatever I experience, it’s not as bad as what James and Fabricio are going through today.” That might not be true; at any given moment James or Fabricio could be having a better day than I am, or be more comfortable at the moment as their needs are being met by World Vision. What I am going to remind myself of is that I have more hope for my own future than one person can keep, so I encourage you to consider sponsoring a child and literally send hope to someone in need. So many kids are waiting, and so many are dying needlessly everyday due to lack of simple things that you can provide through sponsorship.

Again, I wish I could reply to all your comments and emails. Please know this: I was encouraged by all of them! See, you are good at sending help to people in need :)

Ok, thanks for sticking with me this far. Here’s my trail report for the past week! See you on down the trail.

4/2 11 miles, 2.4mph average, passed 10 people heading the same direction :) Slept in tent while rain bounced under the rainfly and on to my face, awesome. Saw 2 snails and a squirrel. Hiked in shorts and t-shirt most of the day.

4/3 15 miles in less than 7 hrs. Saw a squirrel…and a largely devoured hoof of some animal. Slept in a shelter for the first time with The Ultralites, Huck Finn, Pork Chop, Ashley, and some other dude. COLD NIGHT!

4/4 11 miles, nice warm day, passed day hikers (they all smell like DRY SHEETS AND DEODORANT. NICE…) Trail magic as I came off the trail, free lunch! Then they gave us a ride to the Blueberry Patch hostel. Nice day…except for bad Mexican dinner

4/5 less than 10 miles, BAD DAY. Worried, downtrodden, moody, panicky, get our your thesaurus if you want more words. Bad stomach…

4/6 15.5 miles, GREAT DAY! Cold, sleet, snow. Thankful. Stomach still a little uneasy.

4/7 16 miles, hitched into Franklin, stayed at a hostel, had a steak dinner :) Mmmmm….my reward. Did laundry, reorganized some of my gear.

4/8 0 miles. First zero day (not counting miles walking around town). Working on blog at the moment. Planning on 11 miles tomorrow. Stomach is still…ehhh…it doesn’t know what to make of all this exercise and weird food. It’s used to restaurant food 7 days a week.


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