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Appalachian Stick Save

Written by Briton Ryle
Posted August 3, 2020

If you stood with your feet together, the grass on either side would touch at least one of your shoes. That's how narrow the trail we spotted was. It ran briefly right by the road before it veered off and up through a tent flap-sized opening into the dense Virginia woods. We slowed and just inside the opening, we could see the white slash painted on a tree — the Appalachian Trail.

We hugged and said our goodbyes there at Rockfish Gap on Afton Mountain. A couple minutes later, with a full pack on his back, my son slipped through that tent flap, faded into the woods, and was gone. 

I've lived in the Rockies. When they found I was from Virginia, the Coloradans I skied with would call the Appalachian Mountains "bumps, little hills," nothing like the 10,000–12,000-foot jagged peaks that make up the Rockies. Yeah, both ranges have trees and rocks. But that's where the comparisons end. You can walk pretty freely through the woods in the Rockies; it's mostly tall pine trees and sparse underbrush. In the Virginia mountains, the woods are a tangled, thorny jungle — don't forget your machete.

Stand at one of the overlooks and stare out over the endless green expanse of the Shenandoah. You might be 100 miles from D.C., but you could pretty easily get lost and never found in those little hills... at least you could've before cell coverage got so good.

I sat there thinking, Wow, he's done it. Eighteen years old and he's really busting out on his own. There's nothing like taking off on your own, where every decision is your own and you alone will suffer the consequences. No one's bringing you a pizza or a sewing kit.

We Americans don't really have much in the way of defined rites of passage. In the spirit of rugged individualism, our culture demands you find your own trials. Do that and you will find a completely unique sense of self that can lead you to completely unique possibilities and potential.

If you ask me, this is why you can only get a Steve Jobs or an Oprah in America. It's the biggest stage, and if you make it there... 

Sadly, the lack of consistent culturally accepted markers that define and celebrate a person's entry into adulthood is also why we lead the world in drugs and murder. The teenage brain can't balance the differences between the challenges that come in the rite-of-passage years. Take the wrong path and you'll never so much as get a glimpse of that big stage. 

So had these pontifications rolling around my head as I drove up Interstate 81, when my phone rang. I mean, I kinda knew the call was coming. It's a scary moment when you realize you are truly all alone. And we've all been there. Some of us (me) ask, "My god, what have I done?" enough times, you just stop asking.

To me, this is the curse of the cellphone. How can you ever truly be on your own when DING! Apple News notification?

It might sound silly, but you don't find out much about yourself in comparison to others. You find out what you're made of when it's just you and a broken backpack strap or a forgotten can opener. You gotta improvise, find a way, make it happen — not exactly life and death but, at the same time, still pretty significant

So I didn't answer my phone.

I know. What kind of shitty dad just ignores his only son?

It rang again as I knew it would. I was looking at his name, the little picture of my precious second born, and — you guessed it — I let it go to voicemail. 

But, this is my son. He felt like he needed help. My help. I was the father on duty, so I pulled over and called him back. 

"Dad I can't do this. I overpacked, I'm in terrible shape, and everything hurts. Please come get me."

So, it was time for a really top-notch dad talk. I think I delivered a pretty good one:

This, right here, is the hardest part of your plan. You have bitten off a really big chunk, and you're suddenly realizing it. You're looking at the next 10 days when you need to look at the next 10 minutes, revise your expectations, focus on process not end goal, BLAH BLAH BLAH.

The basic plan of any dad talk is to blather homilies and trite life experience phrases until the listener will agree to anything if you'll just stop, please, for the love of god, please stop talking.

I've learned that you let that first wave of emotion wash over you — cry, yell, kick a tree — and you feel better. I told him I wasn't turning around, and he agreed that he could make it through a night and we'd revisit the next day. I was feeling pretty good — felt like I did my job, like I won. Even better, I felt like my son won, too, because he wasn't going to simply abandon his plan. 

The phone rang again: his mom, my ex-wife. My self-esteem shriveled like a worm on a hot Virginia sidewalk. 

"Have you checked the weather?" 

I looked out the window. "Yeah it's sunny and frickin' hot."

"Tropical storm ring any bells? Forty-eight hours of pounding rain and wind?"

Totally contradictory to the forecast outside my window, but I didn't tell her that. 

The ex-wife talk has a similar basic format to the dad talk; the goal is to make the listener feel so stupid that they will agree to anything.

I picked my son up yesterday.

Stick Save!

Do you know what a stick save is? It's a hockey term. When the goalie is badly beaten, guarding the wrong side of the net, and he just catches a glimpse of something in his periphery, lunges wildly and the puck miraculously caroms off the desperate stab of his stick. That's what my son got this weekend, an Appalachian stick save. 

He was feeling pretty good when I picked him up, said he was ready to forge ahead on the trail, too bad about that rain. He feels he could have kept going, which is all any of us ever need. He already has plans to do it again, and I am sure that he will. 

The stock market got a stick save last week, too. Did you see Amazon's earnings last week? They beat by a factor of 10. Analysts were looking for $1-something, and the company reported $10-something. Absurd! Miraculous! But investors get to come away from that wild, desperate rally feeling pretty good about things.  

The vast majority of strategist types have been warning that optimism was out of whack and the market was due for a correction, etc. Amazon, Apple, and other big tech companies are saying, "Not so fast."

Many companies have pivoted faster than anyone really thought they could. And many aspects of life continue at a stronger clip than anyone thought. And the thing is... the stock market has been telling us this for a couple months now. 

We are not out of the woods just yet. But the calendar has turned a month closer to when there may be a vaccine. Add that to strong earnings and any correction for prices has been put off for a bit (though I will say Congress better deliver something this week or a solid 10% drop is back on the table). 

Until next time,

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Briton Ryle

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A 21-year veteran of the newsletter business, Briton Ryle is the editor of The Wealth Advisory income stock newsletter, with a focus on top-quality dividend growth stocks and REITs. Briton also manages the Real Income Trader advisory service, where his readers take regular cash payouts using a low-risk covered call option strategy. He also contributes a weekly column to the Wealth Daily e-letter. To learn more about Briton, click here.

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