Today’s Noteworthy Guest Blogger is PJ Roduta. You might remember PJ from when I interviewed him in March, about one month before he set out on the 3rd and final leg of his 2190 mile hike from Georgia to Maine. In that interview, he mentioned wishing that he’d written more while out on the first two sections, and how he was planning on writing more this summer.
April 26th, 2015, I had the good fortune to meet up with PJ at the location where he’d begin the 3rd and final leg of his hike. (Other than the photo of he and I, all the images and written content in this post are courtesy of PJ.)
In 2013 PJ hiked 530 miles over 33 consecutive days. He journaled 37 3×5 ” pages.
In 2014 PJ hiked 720 miles over 33 consecutive days. He journaled 78 4×7″ pages.
In the summer of 2015, PJ hiked 950 miles over 51 consecutive days. He journaled 189 5×7″ pages.
After a total of 2190 miles over 117 days, PJ Roduta finally completed a full hike of the Appalachian mountain range. He joins a lineage of thousands of nature-seekers who have set out alone, for countless reasons, to find something within themselves out on the trail, and away from the clamor of civilization. He journaled a total of over 300 pages during this journey.
“Besides journaling, paper has several uses on the trail. The Appalachian Trail uses log books called registries at the occasional shelters so that hikers can communicate with one another – several hikers I met mentioned they’d been keeping up with my entries as they followed close behind me. Some of the entries I read warned me of things like overly-friendly porcupines that live at the campsite, recently dried-up water sources, and where not to hitchhike due to active policing.
I was also asked by a trail caretaker to deliver a Mary Oliver poem up the trail to another caretaker a couple days hike away. I had never known “trail mail” existed until then. I myself sent messages to my friends and family during some of my stops in town. People I know and love received birthday cards, mothers’ day cards, and fathers’ day cards from the trail. A handwritten letter often becomes a treasure to keep for years – that still holds true in the middle of the woods. I can hardly imagine losing my own personal trail journals – they’ve become artifacts of my journey.
One day on my hike I woke up and realized my journal had disappeared. I scoured my backpack, no luck. I called the last town I’d been in, no luck.
Then within the first couple miles of my hike I came across a web of colorful twine which was suspending a ziplock bag in mid-air directly ON the trail. Come to find out, I’d dropped my journal when I stopped to chat with some day-hikers from a nearby town and they made this eye-catching twine web in order to return my journal to me. They knew it was special to me, they knew it was worth their effort to get it back to me, and I can’t express my gratitude enough. That was the morning of my birthday.
I initially set out on the Appalachian Trail in order to address several questions within myself – a possible career change, moving to a new city…but underneath that, I needed to gain a sense of faith in myself. I needed to wipe the slate clean to start my 30’s with a challenging, and ultimately encouraging, solo mission.
Yes, I logged my daily mileage, and my start and end points for each day. I have daily notes on terrain, weather, wildlife and vistas. I have reminders to myself on what to research when I get back to Pittsburgh- whether it be anthropomorphism or how to start a fire with an orange peel. But more importantly, I jotted down my thoughts regarding music, love, family, and faith.
I traversed some internal landscapes more challenging than the physical ones, and the growing pains were referenced on paper the whole way. The trail was a daily meditation, and a productive one no doubt. I wrote down my findings so that I can return to my writings for a reminder of the powerful lessons I learned.
Some of the fondest memories are the small ones that fade from memory unless written down. I’ll always remember the wildcat sighting, the inspiring hikers I met, the stop at my college just off the trail, and of course my Dad driving up to meet me with cold weather gear and cold beer to sit with me for a few short hours before I entered the notorious White Mountains of New Hampshire.
But before I went back through my journals, I’d forgotten about the moment my Dad knocked on an outhouse door out in the middle of absolutely nowhere in a joking gesture to check for vacancy. I’d also forgotten about the day my hiking mates and I used leftover ingredients in the White Mountains’ Zealand Falls Hut to concoct a makeshift cocktail – sweet vermouth and maple syrup. We called it the “Zealand Zero”.
These seemingly random memories add so much to my adventure. I also journaled lyrics to 2 songs, recorded ideas for musical compositions, and penciled out the storyboard for 2 childrens’ books (which I’m currently working with an illustrator on and revising to be published in a couple years).
On an adventure of this scope, too much happens for the memory to retain – I turn to paper for help remembering the things that move me every time I recall them. Maybe there’s a reason “journey” and “journal” sound so much alike; they just go together so darn well!”
Thanks PJ – and best wishes on all of life’s journeys to come!