I have been hiking, sleeping, eating and living in the woods for almost three months. You'd think by now I'd have developed some crazy story of coming down with some severe illness, nearly dying and finding myself saved and nursed back to health by a mother bear who recently lost its cub and settled on me as a replacement.

Hardly. In fact, I haven't even seen a bear. A few footprints and some bear droppings are the only evidence I've come across that the big black beasts even exist.

Just today, I spoke with Appalachian Trail Conservancy Chief Operating Officer Steve Paradis (as it turns out, a fellow Andoverite). I told him of my theory about the ATC, and threatened to spread the word about how they are placing false bear footprints and droppings throughout the trail just to attract tourists.

He denied my claims and spoke of having spotted a few bears himself. Other hikers have had what I like to call "false bear experiences," but with no actual bear sightings myself, I'm convinced that the existence of bears is pure propaganda. I'm on to you, Steve.

No bears, no life threatening experiences battling the elements (other than the first snow storm), no physical fights for survival — I've never even gone to bed hungry. Surviving out here is a piece of cake. It's almost easier than surviving the grind back home. In any case of uncertainty, I just look for a 2- by 6-inch white rectangle of paint on a tree to guide me in the proper direction.

Needless to say, life out here is simple. I wake up every morning — every morning — and walk north. Every day. That's the battle to be fought. That every day, every moment of my current life, every ounce of my existence is going north.

North, from Springer Mountain in Georgia, to Mount Katahdin in Maine. From a map, this looks like a fair distance — certainly farther than a day's walk. But the trail doesn't always go straight and north, but sometimes east, west and yes, oddly enough, south.

It turns out I am walking much more than the pure distance to Maine. As the car drives, it would take 1,385 miles and exactly one day (with no sleep) to make it to Mount Katahdin from Springer Mountain. The way I have decided to travel and the path I have opted to take winds its way through 2,178 miles and approximately five to six months. By road, that distance can take you from Boston, to Eagle Pass, Texas — a border town of Mexico. After traveling nearly half that distance and into the trail headquarters in Harpers Ferry, W. Va., I have discovered that 2,178 miles is very, very far.

So although I don't find myself fighting bears, swinging through snake infested vines, or chasing down rabbits for food, the trail is a struggle — not for survival, but for sanity.

My legs have adjusted so well to the miles I put in each day that after 1,013 miles, I am uncomfortable if I'm not sore. The pain in my feet has become a sort of sick comfort. But the day-to-day repetitive routine of walking is not something you become used to — it is something you must make yourself numb to, something you must accept. That nothing else in your life will be able to exist or take place until you reach that goal. If you think I am complaining, I'm not. I'm beginning to love this. It's sick, I guess, but I am becoming addicted to the mental misery of having nothing to do but think and walk.

It's allowed me time to figure some interesting statistics about my hike:

Not including days I have taken off, I am hiking an average of 14 miles a day.

I hike an average of 61âÑ2 hours a day, though some days I have hiked 12 straight hours.

On an average day, I eat about 4,000 calories. The average American eats about 2,800 a day.

On a day in town, I eat more calories than I care to share. Let's just say that four Junior Bacon Cheeseburgers, a Double Classic Burger with Cheese and a Frosty was one of many meals on my last day in town.

I have seen six rabbits, eight snakes, 38 deer, one coyote, an infinite number of birds, and yes, zero bears.

I have pulled off 27 ticks in the past week alone.

I fall an average of 1.3 times a day, and an average of three times a day when it rains.

I twist my ankle around three times a day — they are basically built of rubber now.

What the Appalachian Trail has turned into is not a survival of the fittest or a challenge of physical being, but a test of mental ability. To wake up every morning and do what you did yesterday, and the day before, and the day before, and indeed the day before.

The key for me is that I really enjoyed yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that, and ... you get the point.¬ 

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Adam Rice, 21, is an Andover native and 2006 graduate of Andover High School. He is chronicling his adventures on the Appalachian Trail once a month for the Sunday Eagle-Tribune.

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