Dedicated to Mara's travel and hiking adventure journals as well as her words of wisdom and suggested resources for hikers and travelers.
The Many Faces of Mara Factor
I've left this personal information as it was when I started my hike in 1999. I've added an updates section below.
The Personal Stuff: I'm 33, single and call the Boston area home. My belongings are primarily in storage, and with friends and I'll be giving up my apartment to hike. I will need to find a new place to live when I complete the Trail.
At work: Since 1987, I have been doing technical support for a software company which produces technical data analysis software. In general, I work a reasonable 40 hour work week and am very fortunate to be able to leave work at work when I go home. Surprisingly to many people, I do not own my own computer.
On the dance floor: I like most forms of social dance that I have been exposed to. If it involves being in the arms of a man, I seem to like it. ;-) I can be found on the ballroom dance floor, dancing swing in many of its current guises, contra dancing, modern western square dancing, Latin and salsa, and a variety of other forms. I am much less likely to enjoy going to a club to boogie to the music in an individual freeform way. I seek out dance opportunities when I travel and have danced all over the states and in Europe.
On the mountain: I enjoy hiking and backpacking year round and do most of my hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I have completed the NH 4000íers and one day, I might find that Iíve completed the rest of the New England 4000íers. It is not a major goal of mine but I keep a log anyway. In my travels, I have hiked in the Rockies, the Cascades, the Olympics, the Smokies, the Grand Canyon, Paria Canyon, in England, Norway, Austria and Switzerland, the foothills of the Himalayas in China, and the Himalayas of Nepal.
Traveling: Experiencing different cultures is always interesting and thereís no better way than traveling. I travel wherever I can as often as I can. I do not however believe in "if itís Tuesday, it must be Paris" type of travel though and prefer to immerse myself for a period of time wherever I go. I also enjoy seeking out those activities I enjoy at home when I am traveling. The differences and similarities are all interesting when away from home.
My favorite travel quote: "The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see." - G.K. Chesterton
It's backcountry corollary (added 11/14/06): "One shouldn't go to the woods looking for something, but rather to see what is there." - John Cage
With my friends: Itís not unusual to find me out in the evening bowling, playing miniature golf, shooting pool, playing Boggle, or even staying up all night playing Eleusis. I have many friends with whom I enjoy these activities.
Other activities: I keep busy many other ways as well. Here are just some of the activities I enjoy whether or not I have done them recently. They are all activities I intend to continue to do when appropriate. Skiing (mostly crosscountry), bicycling, ice-skating, scuba diving, reading, working through Games magazines, origami, volunteer Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, ice skating, sailing, and water skiing. Perhaps one of these years Iíll even try my hand at skydiving.
How I came to hike the Appalachian Trail: Hiking the Appalachian Trail was not my idea. It was an idea presented to me in the middle of a contra dance by a friend. I had known of the trail for many years and had talked to and given rides to thruhikers many times. I had never thought hiking the trail would be something that appealed to me.
This time, something clicked. I got to work the next day and subscribed to four AT related mailing lists. From there, the more I read and the more I participated in the discussions, the more I realized that this was the right thing for me to do. It is also the right time in my life to do it.
I have been in my job for eleven years and could use a break to reevaluate whether or not my current position is appropriate for my career. I have been living out of storage since the summer of 1997 when I was preparing for a ten week trip to Asia and have few domestic obligations to keep me in town. I want to buy a house but know that I will not be taking anything other than "standard" vacation time once I do. If ever I was to hike the AT, this would be a good time.
I am also in the best shape I have ever been in and for the first time, I have gotten to the point where my knees rarely prevent me from doing anything. I have the backpacking experience and hiking means more to me now than ever before. During the course of 1998, I realized that for two-thirds of the weekends throughout the year, I was hiking for at least one day. It was not enough.
The decision being made, I asked for and received a seven month leave of absence. My employer neither guaranteed me a job upon my return nor did I commit to returning to work upon completion of the trail.
Why am I hiking the Appalachian Trail ?
I do not know why I am hiking the Appalachian Trail...
Update - June 2001:
Not a whole lot has seemingly changed in my life. I'm now 35, and have moved out of storage into a large apartment with plenty of room for my gear, guests, and a home office. It's great to be able to have company and I've hosted quite a few of my friends from the trail as well as other hikers I've met doing trail magic.
My company was bought while I was on the AT and my employment was terminated. Not surprisingly, they hired me right back as soon as I got off the trail. I still don't own my own computer but because my company keeps moving further from where I live, they've made a computer available to me at home to use so I can work from home a couple of days a week.
My priorities have shifted a bit and though I still love to dance, I'm hiking more than ever and rarely dance anymore. Even here in the city, I mostly maintain hikers hours and tend to sleep and rise with the sun. It makes a normal social life a little more difficult but I manage.
Reevaluating my life happened more after I got off the trail than while I was on it. But, the trail gave me a different perspective on life. Simplicity is now something I strive for in many parts of my life. Staying with my job is just one way I've accomplished that. I'm good at what I do, can do it simply, easily, and with a minimum of stress. Right now, that's more important to me than getting ahead in the rat race.
I also realize the value of my current excellent state of health. I no longer plan to buy a house. Instead, I am planning another long-distance hike. This time, I will most likely hike the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650 mile trail from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon, and Washington. I will most likely hike it in 2003 or 2004. The long-distance hiking bug has caught me with a vengeance.
Update - January 2005:
Quite a bit has changed in the last three and a half years. I'm now 39, and while I am in the same apartment as when I wrote my last update, I am no longer employed. My company laid me off in the fall of 2002, giving me not only enough time to plan a 2003 Pacific Crest Trail thruhike, but also to spend three fantastic months in Australia and New Zealand before starting my hike.
My thruhike started as planned at the end of April in 2003 but by the time July came around, I was off the trail, having decided that a thruhike was not in the cards for me. Rather than head home, I bought a car while visiting friends in California, and then spent 10 weeks traveling 9,000 miles to get home by way of some of America's most spectacular scenery and quite a few friend's houses.
Intending to start job hunting when I got home, I found that wasn't in the cards, either. Unwilling to start a job search, and knowing how to live quite frugally, I have since been enjoying what I have come to call my "Mid-life Retirement." While this retirement is unlikely to be permanent, I no longer have a date by which I plan to seek employment.
I'm not sure whether I will ever finish the PCT. I do not regret my decision to get off the trail, but I know there is some spectacular scenery on the trail which I have yet to see.
In the meantime, I continue to hike though I prefer hiking with company now. I have gotten involved with a geartesting group, BackpackGearTest.org, and have a new appreciation for the work that goes into our hiking gear. I enjoy the responsibility to the manufacturer and other hikers that comes with testing gear. It's nice to know that it is possible to have an affect on the way future renditions of gear may be manufactured. Knowing that hikers looking for reviews of certain items may read my reports and base their gear buying decisions on those reports, also engenders a responsibility to be both thorough and accurate in my reporting.
2004 was a relatively quiet year for me with only one major travel destination - New Mexico. I hope to spend a bit more time traveling and hiking this year.
Update - March 2006:
The major update for me this year is likely my retirement situation. Assuming I don't feel a need to significantly change my lifestyle, my retirement is likely to be permanent.
I spent a total of about six months away from home last year. I hope to do as much this year. Over the next few years, I may start spending significant amounts of time in countries with low cost of living situations. That'll help stretch my savings and ensure the permanent nature of my retirement. Only time will tell so stay tuned...
Update - July 2010:
Quite a bit has gone on since my last update. I've been traveling more than ever and as a result of both that and the economy, my retirement status is up in the air again.
In February of 2007, after divesting myself of most of my belongings and finding places to store the rest, I gave up my apartment and started hiking and traveling. In the three years since then, I've hiked half of the AT again in two large sections, spent one summer living in a cabin with no electricity in the Adirondacks, traveled for six months in Southeast Asia and more than 9 months in Central and South America - my longest trip yet. It was during this long trip that I took side trips to Antarctica including the Falklands and South Georgia Island and Easter Island.
While Southeast Asia did certainly meet my needs of traveling in countries with low cost of living situations, the areas I traveled in South America weren't quite so inexpensive.
I'm now back in the Boston area and have been living in long term temporary situations for nearly a year, while continuing my sporadic search for a more stable living situation.
With the economy still taking its time recovering and my higher than expected expenses from my previous travels, I'm now open to finding some employment to stanch the flow of cash from my savings. Since I've been back, I've done some work as an independant home organizer. I've also been working for the census this year. I'll be open to other job opportunities over time as well.
Last updated, July 27, 2010.
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