Mary the Magnificent

In which Mary “Speedstick” Moynihan answers our disturbingly philosophical questions from “Are We Whack” about trekking the AT, the PCT, and the CDT…

1. US: What did you use for t.p.?

Mary: Well, t.p. of course. In the backcountry a hiker should practice
“Leave No Trace.” The proper way to dispose of one’s used t.p. is to
dig a hole 6-8 inches, 200 feet away from the trail or any water
source. This is describing what you would do for, umm, well, #2. If
your a woman and are just going #1 then my recommendation is to either
drip-dry (exactly what it sounds like, followed by a little shake at
the end) or use a reusable cloth, like a bandanna, that you can rinse
out in a creek. If you must use t.p. ladies, pack your used t.p. out
in a re-sealable baggie. It simply won’t break down in the ground and
more often than not ends up as unsightly t.p. strewn about the woods.
For more information visit: Leave No Trace.

2. US: What did you eat?

Mary: What didn’t I eat? I average a marathon a day (22-30 miles) which
warrants between 4,000–6,000 calories. This all depends on how
difficult the terrain is. Is there snow? Bouldering? Am I
ascending/descending significant elevation? While on-trail I typically
carried granola with dried milk for breakfast. I break a box of
granola into 4-5 servings. (The serving size on the box might say 11,
however). For lunch I’d eat a variety of things. Typically a couple of
flour tortillas with cheese, tuna and/or salami. Thomas everything
bagels were a staple and almond butter is still one of my favorite
toppings. (So worth the extra money compared to that of the same-old
peanut butter). I’d also always carry some sort of chip, like corn
chips, which are high in calories and eat a few handfuls with lunch
and dinner. For dinner, a whole box of mac n’ cheese or a whole
package of instant potatoes with a few pieces of cheese, or more
tortillas, cheese and salami. I’d also eat a few high calorie energy
bars, like Raw Revolution and Tigers Milk and I typically had a stash
of single-serve powdered drink mix and, before forgetting the single
most important thing, I’d have a candy bar (preferably King Size) for
desert after dinner and lunch!

3. US: What did you CRAVE in those months of aloneness?

Mary: Fried egg sandwiches. Cold water when I was in the deserts and hot
showers when I was freezing in the mountains. Milkshakes, fresh fruit,
a crisp, cool beer, New York-style pizza. Music. A handsome man to
walk beside and pass the hours talking about all the great things
we’ve seen. I craved dry ground after the five-hundredth mile of snow
in Colorado. I craved snow after the five-hundredth mile of desert in
New Mexico. I craved the climb up Springer Mountain on the Appalachian
Trail—the first miles of my first thru-hike and backpacking trip,
ever—to come to an end. I craved for it never to end.

4. US: How did you think?

Mary: “How did I think?” I thought about everything and anything and about
nothing at all. I’d spend miles thinking about wildflowers, distracted
on the ground beneath my feet. I thought of the flora and fauna, the
sunrise and sunset, the granite and sandstone and the plethora of
things to see as an artist always does. I’d ponder everyday
things—everyday in the backcountry, that is—seeing rich texture,
detail, color, form. I’d sit at a vista and without words summarize
the vast expanse I stared out across. On my most recent hike, the
Continental Divide Trail, I’d think about navigation constantly;
rarely an hour went by without consulting my maps. I’d spend the last
day of a 5-day stretch dreaming about fried egg sandwiches. Sometimes
all of this thinking was words in my head while sometimes I talked to
myself out loud or to a squirrel, butterfly, beetle. Sometimes there
were no words at all, just walking.

5. US: Who did you meet along the way?

Mary:I met other hikers. Day walkers, weekend hikers, section-hikers,
thru-hikers. Sometimes I’d walk with them for a moment, a day, a week,
a month. If we spent a month together, we might spend our days
separate and camp together or we might hike together and camp
separately. As a solo hiker, you can come and go as you please. I’d
meet the people in the variety of towns I passed through. They were
generally friendly and many times people offered me a ride, a meal and
sometimes they would invite me back to their house to sleep in a comfy
bed for a night.

6. Why?
Why? Why not?

(Rhetorical thru and thru.)
7. US:Why do you do it?

Mary: It’s become a way of life I very much enjoy. I love the rhythm I fall
into when I’m hiking for four, five months at a time. I can leave all
the hustle and bustle behind. I can escape from the everyday pressures
and materialism. I carry everything I need on my back; it’s very
empowering. I also thru-hike because it’s the perfect way to see the
beauty of this world. It’s slow enough that I can take it all in
without feeling I missed anything, yet fast enough to see the vast
differences our forests possess.

8. US: Who are you now?

Mary: The immediate post-trail life was a difficult adjustment to say the
least. I felt like a huge part of me vanished. It’s like my best
friend disappeared from my life. A few months later I returned to my
usual positive self. There is so much to see and do in life. I fill my
time with things I feel passionate about, no matter how small or big
they may be and I am always thinking of another hike.

9. US: Are you writing a book?
Mary: I’ve been writing a memoir. I want it to be a humorous, informative
and engaging piece. I’m focusing on my latest hike along the CDT, but
referencing the other thru-hikes. I’m also writing it in the
perspective of a solo-female woman, which as you can imagine has lent
itself to many concerns and doubts from onlookers.
10. US: What advice do you give anyone–men and women–regarding through-hiking?

Mary: Once you’ve considered it and shifted the idea into a plan and then
into reality and you find yourself a mere few miles from the southern
(or northern) terminus you might find yourself asking, “What am I
doing!?!?!” Perhaps in those first few days you have doubts or pains
(which is unavoidable). I caution you these words: keep hiking. After
your first two weeks, things get easier. Your body adapts. You mind
focuses. You find peace and you yearn for what’s around the next bend.
You won’t regret it, but if you get off, you may never forgive
yourself.

US: (Bonus) What do you read?

Mary: I read a ton of non-fiction. Mostly on traveling and food. Currently I
am reading Julie Powell’s Cleaving. She also wrote the amazing Julie &
Julia, which both books are a great influence in my own writing as
committing to 2,800 miles in 4 months is not totally unlike making 524
French-inspired recipes in a year. 
Other favorites include Barbara
Kingsolver’s
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Elizabeth Eaves’s Wanderlust,
Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, Russ Parson’s
How to Pick a Peach and Alisa Smith & J.B MacKimmon’s The 100-Mile
Diet
.

Us: And, more importantly, why do you wish to plant yourself on your
meager days-off at the PCT sites in central Oregon to hand out coffee
and candy to thru-hikers this spring/summer?
(Can we join you?)

Mary: I want to give back. I’ve received tons of support along my hikes from
many people I had never known before or sometimes, never even met.
I’ve stumbled upon a dozen  coolers in the middle of the woods with
soda and a trail register. I met a kind woman in a post office who
invited me into her home for spaghetti and puckery rhubarb pie. I’ve
met handfuls of trail angels who offer their generous time and homes
to hikers year after year. They welcome hikers in to take a shower,
put their feet up and stuff their empty stomachs. I want to return
this kindness in the form of “trail magic” by strategically placing
myself along the PCT this year with coolers of beverages and a kitchen
to cook up fried egg sandwiches.

(We would like to thank Mary for her candid and inspiring responses.  Not only has she had some incredible adventures, but is a really nice person with a kick-ass spirit.  We believe, upon all accounts, that she practices and promotes excellent environmental ethics and serves us and future biophiles (lovers of the biosphere) as an example to look up to for our own efforts to conserve and enjoy Earth.  Stay tuned for her lively book…)

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