June 11, 2014

I must describe how awesome this week has been to me. To preface the story, I will admit that a couple weeks ago I was close to ending my journey and quitting the trail. I experienced a few weeks of hardship that was, at some points, quite psychologically tolling. 

After my short trip home last month, I returned to the trail at the point I left off. I was used to seeing the same hiker friends on a regular basis, but upon my return, they had moved on and I did not see many, if any, other people on the trail for a while. Also, the weather was not kind to me and the section which I am currently traversing can be quite strenuous. I prayed for a turn of events that would revive my motivation. 

This past Friday, I had to find my way into the town of Pine Grove, PA to resupply on food. Getting into town is always a challenge, as my primary [and only] means of transportation is on foot. And the trail rarely brings me directly into a town. For this reason, I usually have to hitch-hike. I knew getting into Pine Grove would be especially challenging since it required traveling a few miles on two different roads. I thought that it would require me to catch two rides into town and two rides back. On my attempt to hitch into town, I was extremely fortunate in getting picked up by the second car that drove by (it usually takes dozens, sometimes nearly a hundred attempts before I'm picked up). The odds were ever in my favor, as a nice man, who was familiar with the trail, happened to be driving home and lived near the supermarket I had to find. He made my day a lot easier by bringing me all the way into town, instead of just down one road. 

After a quick food resupply and a meal at Arby's across the street, I got back on the road and stuck my thumb out and waited for my next random ride. After about 20 minutes of having cars drive past me, a red sedan stopped and a girl stuck her head out the window and asked where I needed to go and offered me a ride. Miranda, a young girl who lives nearby, was gracious enough to drive me all the way back to the trail where I had left off. It was her first time picking up a hitch-hiker and, to her surprise, I appeared to be a sane man. When we arrived at my destination, I did not depart the car quickly, as she and I conversed and got to know each other. I shared my experiences on the trail as she shared stories about herself.  I left her car and hiked another couple miles to find a tent site and I went to sleep quite content that night. 

Just a couple days later I was taking a quick break on the trail and sat at a cliff clearing enjoying a relatively clear view of eastern PA. Two other hikers had come up to the spot and we talked for a few minutes and I decided to hike a few miles with them to the next road to find our way into the town of Hamburg, PA. Their names are Goat and Sole Power. Coincidentally, the three of us found out that our birthdays were all this week and decided we should celebrate together with a meal at Red Robin. An hour or two later, the trail brought us to a fast moving highway. The town was two miles west on that road. It seemed like the cars were moving too fast and there was no room to pull over even if one did stop to pick us up. About a mile into our walk along the highway, a girl in a car yelled out her window that she would turn around and pick us up (she was driving east as we were walking west and had to find a point to get on our side of the road). a few minutes later, Ginger Snap, a former thru-hiker, greets us and asks us where we need to go. We told her we were going to Red Robin for a birthday meal before a stop at a supermarket for trail food. On the way there, we all got along great and not only did she decide to come eat with us, but she also offered to take us home to enjoy dinner, showers, and a place to sleep (a rare delight on the trail). We could not refuse. 

As the four of us got to know each other and got along well, she offered to give us a ride to the trail the next day with the intent of picking us so we could stay the night again. The two guys and I hiked a 26 miles a day through a very difficult section, but our spirits were high, as we knew we were returning to the comforts of a home afterward. Upon arriving back at her house, we were greeted by a huge pasta dinner that her mom prepared -- there were no complaints.  

After our stay a second night, there was the mutual decision to take the next day off from hiking to relax and enjoy a day away from the trail. Ginger Snap took a half day at work and when she got home at noon, Sole Feet and Goat and I had prepared a big breakfast for all of us. We sat for hours eating and reminiscing of Appalachian Trail experiences. We then walked over to a soccer field nearby to toss a frisbee for the rest of the afternoon. We followed this by dinner at a local pub. After this day off, we were well rested and motivated to get back on the trail. 

I write this post this morning as we are all packing our things to return to the mountains that long for our boots to touch them. And as the events this week unfolded, I am reborn and re-motivated to complete the journey.

Good days in PA

I am currently near Hamburg, PA making my way through Pennsylvania.  Things are going well and I apologize for the lack of updates, but will have a lot to post next week when I take a few days off to come in to NYC for my birthday this week.  Until then, thanks for all your support!

Recent adventure...

There are certain things that happen to me along this trip that make me think, "You just can't make this stuff up."  I am still in Harpers Ferry, but with quite an explanation.

Looking in my guide book that shows what is in the nearby towns that I'm passing through, I notice a description of an organic farm not too far away that offers a work-for-stay (you work for your room and board instead of paying) and I thought it would be interesting to work on a farm for a day and have a relaxing night, so I gave them a call and got picked up and headed over to the farm.

It is quite the aesthetically pleasing landscape on which the farm is situated:  rows of vegetables being planted, goats running freely, a small pond, a barn -- a real farm.  There are three houses on the farm and there are about 25 people living there.  This is not one family.  Rather, it is an intentional community of people who choose to live and work together; this large group of people consists of several families with children and a few single people.  They are part of a network of communities like this one who call themselves the "Twelve Tribes".

The Twelve Tribes are a spiritual community who, based on my theological and philosophical studies, can only be defined as a cult.  The days begin at 6AM with a group meeting called "the gathering".  These gatherings are unstructured and sporadic.  Someone may stand up and say "This Psalm spoke to me today" and then someone else will piggyback off that point and there is potential for a waterfall conversation, but it is usually short-lived with shallow observations.  Or perhaps someone will bust out in song (these songs only written and known within their group) and everyone will follow suite and sing along.  And then there are the awkward periods of silence when no one has anything to say.  These meetings usually last about an hour.

After the gathering, everyone eats a quick breakfast before heading to their respective duties for the day.  Some work construction on new farm projects, some tend to the crops and animals, some work at a nearby deli/market that they run in town.  And they follow traditional gender roles with the men doing the heavy work and the women raising their families.  It is a bit like an ant colony with people scurrying about trying to get their work done.  And there is a lot of work to be done.  There are no salaries, as the community shares everything in common.  Nobody  has a phone, a TV, a computer.  The children are home schooled do not have real toys and are even work alongside their parents in most tasks.  This is all an attempt to recreate what they believe the early church communities were like.  Their specific [and constant use of] reference is found in Acts 2:44-2:47.

The work day ends around 5PM and then there is an hour of "preparation time".  There are two things that are prepared:  dinner (which is no small task for that volume of people), and a personal preparation to bring "food" (in this context, I am referring to "spiritual" food) to the gathering.  There is a constant worry that they must "Feed the Father".  This is done by the fruits of their manual labor and by spending enough time studying their spiritual manuals (only the Bible, their own holy texts, and some farming books are the only books I've seen in the homes).  With all the work that must be done to sustain themselves, there is little to no time for genuine prayer.  6PM is the second gathering.

The evening gathering usually inadvertently turns into a prophecy obsession.  From what I've pieced together, I think that they believe that once they've genuinely established a duplication of the early church communities and have a foothold in 12 regions of the world, this will invoke the second coming of Christ.  Also, they forbid saying Jesus' name in English, as He must be referred to as Yahshua, His Hebrew name.  They also observe all Jewish holidays and observe the Sabbath at the same time as the Jewish faith honors.  Oddly, they do not identify as Christian or Jewish or anything.  But they do hold belief in a triune God. 

When they learned that my trail name is "The Priest" and found out my intention is to pursue the Catholic priesthood, I got the distinct feeling that they viewed me as a spiritual enemy or lost soul.  They are too polite to say that directly, but there was a lot of time spent attempting to justify their way of life, implying that any other beliefs are heretical in nature. 

It would take an entire book for me to summarize the four days I spent with them, but it was quite the experience and one that I will not soon forget.

You can view their website at www.TwelveTribes.com

There is also a website run by ex members, who propose allegations of child abuse and mind control - www.twelvetribes-ex.com/

I'm in Harper's Ferry! (it's the halfway mark)

I write to you from the state of West Virginia in a town called Harper's Ferry.  It is home to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and it marks the halfway point of the 2,200 mile trail.  It is the unofficial halfway mark -- I have gone 1019 miles and have 1166 to go.

It is a surreal feeling to have gone over 1,000 miles on foot and to be at the halfway point of this journey.  It has been a lot of ups and downs up to this point and a real experience.  Looking back, it is difficult to fathom that three months ago I was walking in snow and ice and below-freezing temperatures and now I am in shorts and a t-shirt sweating until I smell like a wet dog. 

Looking back, these three months feel like a lifetime.  It is even difficult to imagine my "normal" life before I embarked on this adventure.  The time spent outdoors, the oneness with nature, the views, the animals, the people -- it is all worth the effort.  Toward the end of my first week on the trail, I had checked into a hostel to give my shoes a chance to dry out (from the snow) and to take a rest.  The only other person at the hostel was a guy named "City Slick" (his trail name, of course) and I picked his brain about how to make it on the trail.  The next morning I left and caught a ride back to the trail with someone I had met the night before.  As I walked out the door of the hostel, City Slick said to me, "I hope you find what you're looking for".  It had seemed only slightly profound at the time, but looking back, thinking about who it came from (a man who had previously thru-hiked), I realize that there is truth to be found an this trek.  And I am noticing from the hikers I occasionally run into that it is an entirely subjective truth. 

Greetings from Luray, VA - Mile 937

I am currently in a town called Luray in northern Virginia and taking a short break from making my way through the Shenandoah National Park, which is situated along the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The views, to put it simply, are stunning.


My most current news is that I have finally seen a bear!  It was just a couple of days ago in the Shenandoahs and it was just about 6 or 7 in the evening and I was walking along the trail looking for a campsite.  I had found some decent flat ground and began to look around for a good spot to set up my tent and I hear something rustling through the leaves.  I turn to my right and just about 20 feet away from me is a black bear.  I had read much about what to do in this scenario, but I was still quite shocked to be so close to a bear, with no fence in between us.  After a few seconds of the bear and I staring at each other, I made an aggressive step toward the bear and pointed my trekking poles at him.  He stared at me for another second, as if to size me up, and then trotted away.  I was very quick to get out of the area too. 


Other than the bear, I have seen many deer, snakes, spiders, hawks and other exotic birds, mice, and lots of bugs/insects.


In just a few days, I will pass 1,000 miles and reach a town called Harpers Ferry in West Virginia and that marks the unofficial halfway point on the trail.  It is difficult to believe that I have been gone for three months and have gone about a thousand miles to this point.  I estimate to arrive in Maine and finish the trail mid to late July.


The weather has been much warmer lately, so I will not be complaining about the cold anymore -- just the constant pool of sweat in which I am walking.  It seems that the gnats here are especially attracted to me when I am glistening in sweat.  There have been quite a few rainy and stormy days lately, but in the warm weather, it is not so bad.  In fact, I welcome a light drizzle on a regular basis -- it drives the insects away. 


Just a couple of weeks ago, I took a five day break to go home to New York for my niece's First Holy Communion, and for a few days of rest.  It was a low key visit home, so I did not inform everyone of my arrival, as I was looking forward to a few days of rest.  Also, a big shout out to Matt Ferraro and his girlfriend Megan for getting me back to the trail in Virginia.  It worked out perfectly that they were driving down to North Carolina on the same day I was heading back down south and were able to leave me exactly where I left off the previous week.


It was quite difficult to reacclimate to life on the trail.  I had to once again ween myself off of good food, access to showers and clean clothes, and the comforts of home.  What was also a challenge was not knowing anybody on the hiking pace I reassumed when getting back on the trail.  The hiking friends I had made over the past few moths are now still almost 100 miles ahead of me and I am doing my best to catch back up to them by pushing longer days of walking.  It should take me another two weeks or so to reunite with them.  It's been a bit like transferring schools in the middle of the year, but it is not too bad.  After about a week and a half now, I have made the shift from Brooklyn Sean to "The Priest" on the Appalachian Trail. 


I am about three weeks away from passing near the Delaware Water Gap (just about 80 miles from NYC), and will be getting a few skydives in during my short stay there.  For my friends who would like to jump with me, it would be best to keep an eye on my GPS tracker and also email me so I can keep you posted on the details.  I might make another trip home then (which would be around the second week of June) if it is close to my birthday (June 12).  It would be nice to celebrate at home with friends/family instead of packing up a wet tent and eating cold pop tarts for breakfast.


Looking ahead, I am excited to be in the northern states (West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut) soon.  Now that I am nearly out of Virginia, it feels like there is real progress to be made ahead of me.  It is true what I had read about the "Virginia Blues" that are associated with the long 550 mile walk through the state.  At times, the long and repetitive days begin to feel like a chore and not much changes.  There were times, especially during stormy weather or general bad luck, that my mental state was less than content and experienced "the blues" on a daily basis.  That said, I pray those days are behind me, since I am almost in the familiar territory of the northeast.  I do not mention this to highlight a negative experience on the trail -- rather, there is sometimes a tendency to over-romanticize this life on the Appalachian Trail, that I wish to balance.  Not every day is a beautiful sunrise and walking along streams and butterflies resting on my backpack.  There is the reality of sore muscles, hunger, adverse weather, and the logistical challenges of getting to/from a town, getting food, water, and supplies.  In these times, it is ever imperative to stay positive and keep going.  These challenges are also good fodder for my prayer life.  I am also reminded of the words of of Muhammad Ali when speaking of how much he hated his training -- "Suffer now, and live the rest of your life is a champion."  There is no great ceremony or after-party at the end of the Appalachian Trail, but there is a real authenticity in this way of life;  the oneness with nature, the constant challenges that arise, and the time spent alone can only result in true self-growth.  To make another reference that I contemplate from time to time, I think of Primo Levi, when he said:


"...the sea's only gifts are harsh blows and, occasionally, the chance to feel strong.  Now, I don't know much about the sea, but I do know that that's the way it is here.  And I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong, to measure yourself at least once, to find yourself in the most ancient of human conditions, facing blind, deaf stone alone, with nothing to help you but your hands and your own head..."

Mail Drop Points

Estimated arrival: Friday, May 16th 

Sean Cintron
C/O General Delivery
Luray, VA 22835
Please hold for AT Hiker
ETA May 16th, 2014

Estimated arrival: Thursday, May 22

Shipping via USPS:

Sean Cintron
C/O Appalachian Trail Conservancy
P.O. Box 807
Harpers Ferry, WV 25425
ETA May 22, 2014

For FedEx/UPS:

Sean Cintron
C/O General Delivery
Duncannon, PA 17020
Please hold for AT hiker. 
ETA May 30, 2014

Estimated arrival: Friday, May 30

Sean Cintron 
C/O General Delivery
Pine Grove, PA 17963
Please hold for AT Hiker
ETA May 30, 2014

Borrowed from a trail friend's blog...

Written by a great friend I have made on the trail named Icicle.  She and her husband Quailman are some of my favorite people I've met along this journey.  They made a recent blog post of people they've run into on the trail.  Here is my their bio of me.







This phase of our trail experience was the most social yet, and we are dedicating this blog post to our trail friends who have become our trail family. We’ll attempt to tell you a little bit about this phase while introducing you to some people who have become important in our journey of the Appalachian trail.


The Priest: We first met The Priest in the Smokies. Our first impression was of a quiet, intense man. He was covered in beautiful tattoos, has a lean build, eyes that pierce, and dark hair. He rescued our tablet, which Quailman had left in a shelter in the Smokies. We exchanged a beer for the service of carrying a couple of pounds for miles to return it to us. After that, we didn’t see him for a few days. But here and there we encountered him and learned a little more about him each time. He has a soft, firm voice. In that voice, we learned he was in fact going to become a Priest, hence his trail name. Being from New York, Quailman and The Priest had quite a few things in common and exchanged stories about delicious food and interesting places they had both been to. We started seeing the Priest almost every day and I especially enjoyed just being around him. He has a certain calm presence that’s nice to simply exist in. Cheeze-it, a fellow trail family friend, noticed he wore a ring and asked if he was married. We didn’t know religion he ascribed to, so it was a possibility. It turns out it was a rosary ring with little bumps to help keep track of rosaries said. Quailman and I have a lot of respect for him. His dedication is admirable and he only speaks of religion in a personal context or if asked. It’s changed the more rigid stance I had towards religion. He’s a good man and he will do amazing things in his priesthood. We’ve come to think of the Priest as part of our trail family. One of our favorite moments was when The Priest showed up at Fort Bastion. We were slackpacking for the first time thanks to a trail friend’s father and didn’t know if we would see him that night. He can do big miles if he chooses while we tend to be more on the moderate side of miles. We were sad we might not see him again, but knew that is part of the trail. Your trail family is constantly evolving and there’s an ebb and flow to how groups form along the way. When we entered Fort Bastion in the back of pickup truck, we spotted him! Fort Bastion is run by a man known as “TruBrit”. He owns a big piece of land about a half mile off the trail. Right now, there’s a giant tarp tee-pee with a fire pit in it, a portapotty, and a motor home he lives in. He claims to have hiked 150,000 miles, to have been in British special forces for 25 years, and to have given up all of his wealth 3 times over. We aren’t sure how much of this is true if truth be told. He’s maybe 60 years old. If you assume he started hiking around the age of 10, he would have had to hike 3,000 miles a year. That is a little hard to believe. Well, we hop out of the pickup truck and there was the Priest! He was standing among other tents set up there. “We are so happy you are here!” The Priest responds, “Well, I asked for a sign. I looked down and there was literally a sign with a number for Fort Bastion. It’s rare signs are so literal.” We all chuckle and are grateful he decided to hang out with us again that night. We’ve decided he will be the main character in a Class of 2014 Comic Year book we plan on creating. I mean, come on. A Priest in the making from the dark streets of New York covered in tattoos. It’s going to be an awesome comic book. He will clearly be fighting demons, or other Northbound hikers.