There are some common terms among AT Hikers that might be unintelligible to others. Just in case I slip and use some of these phrases, here is a translation guide:
Thru-hiker: Someone who is attempting to hike the entire 2,185 miles from Georgia to Maine (or from Maine to Georgia. ..see next entry)
SOBO or NOBO: Southbound or Northbound hiker (We are SOBOs)
Trail Names: Most long-distance hikers have a nickname they are known by on the trail. They sign this name in the registers at shelters and use it when asking about each other on the hiker grapevine. These names are also signed on the photo taken at the AT headquarters. Our names are “Story Seeker” and “Andowen” (an elven name from Lord of the Rings)
Hiker Box: a box found in hostels and other hiker gathering spots where items can be left behind to be picked up and used by other hikers. “Treasures” for us have included fancy protein bars and hot-pink rope!
Zero Day: any day when zero miles are hiked. This is often associated with town days.
Near-o Day: a day with limited miles. Efficient hikers manage to hike a few miles to town, complete a resupply, and hike a few miles further down the trail to the next shelter, all in one town day. We have not yet mastered this level!
Hiker Midnight: either 8 pm or 9 pm, depending on which hikers you talk with. By this “late” hour all the backpackers are headed to bed after a long day of exercise and fresh air.
Hiker TV: There is great entertainment to be found in people-watching, whether in town or when day-hikers share the trail!
Grab a cart to buy mountains of food. Rebag it and throw away the wasteful packaging.
Logistics can be challenging when long-distance backpacking. The ultimate goal is to carry the lightest possible pack. In the case of gear, lighter weight means higher costs. With food and fuel, it is a balancing act of carrying enough supplies to stay on the trail for the most days possible without risking injury or exhaustion from carrying too much weight. Resupply expeditions are costly in both time and money. Most towns are at least a few miles away from the trail. This extra mileage plus all the things that get done on a Town Day usually means a day of no hiking. (If you missed it, read about the delights of a Town Day from 9/18.) Staying overnight in town obviously increases costs when compared to tent-camping in the woods for free.
“You carry your house (tent), your bed (sleeping bag), your stove, your food, and everything else you need until the next opportunity to resupply. If you need it, you have to carry it.”–AWOL (Thru-hiker David Miller)
At our slow pace and low mileage, we each eat 1 ½ pounds of food per day. (Thru-hikers pushing for 3-4 times our mileage often consume 2-3 pounds of food per day and still don’t get enough calories!) We generally plan a partial resupply at a gas station or convenience store 4-5 days after a Town Day. Other items such as fuel and dinners are only found at bigger stores in larger towns—which we reach every 7-9 days. We hustle through the grocery store with our list—oohing and ahhing over all the yummy looking food. We can buy some treats to eat while still in town. But we have to stick closely to our list for trail food—otherwise our packs would quickly be too heavy to carry!
After we lug all the bags back to where we are staying overnight, we dump it all out to organize the food. Every time, we wonder how that mountain will ever fit in our packs! Daughter carries the lunch and dinner food. I carry the breakfast items and multitude of snacks. (To see a list of the types and amounts of food we carry, check out the post on Trail Journals from 9/5/15, found HERE.)
We take most foods out of the wasteful, over-large, heavy packaging. Snacks are divided into individual portions to make sure we don’t mindlessly eat three or four days’ worth at one time. Don’t worry, most of these bags will be saved and reused. Other foods are mixed together in freezer weight bags, ready to have water added at meal time.
We have a mound of trash by the time we are finished. But now the food will fit in our packs.
Hopefully we didn’t forget anything—it will be a long week before we get to another store!
Walking in the woods is wonderful. But eventually, it can get boring–putting one foot in front of the other, slogging up a mountain or down the other side. What is a teen to do when she wants a little fun?
Daughter has a new appreciation for critters. It can be entertaining to add “words” to the bird sounds we hear. And hopping toads are fun to watch. Even insects (the most common critters we see) can be intriguing to watch as they wander through our camp or across our path. Spiderweb spotting is another favorite pastime for daughter.
We brought a few art supplies and we sing many songs together. We read bits of poetry out loud from our kindle. A favorite right now is “Song of the Yukon” by Robert Service. (You can read it HERE.) These final lines are quite applicable to our journey:
It’s the forests where silence has lease;
It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.
Whenever we have extra time at a shelter (by hiking quickly or covering a shorter distance), daughter practices her favorite activity: SWORD-FIGHTING! Yep, her hiking staff becomes a lethal sword and she is the (s)hero of the hour.
Have you checked out the FAQ tab here on the blog? At the end of the list I explain the steps involved in considering a new Big Epic: “Brainstorming a big idea, researching what others have done, making extensive plans as to how this dream might be implemented, talking with friends, family (and yes, even strangers) about this big idea, abandoning the project if it is way too big for even me, and making the feasible plan(s) become reality.”
Obviously I brainstormed the idea of a long-distance hiking trip on the Appalachian Trail. At two weeks into our two month hike, this Big Epic has certainly become a reality. But what about the middle stages? What was involved in the research and planning steps before we left? And how does that compare to the realities we are now experiencing?
“I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower
Since high school, I have read books about folks who have completed epic hikes. (I’ve also read extensively about those who climb Mt. Everest—but that’s another story for another time.) In considering this trip, I conquered a mountain of books about the Appalachian Trail. Some I discarded as having little relevance to daughter and I. (Nope, we are not attempting to run the entire 2185 miles in less than two months. Nor was I looking for compulsively detailed reviews of each calorie consumed and every single shelter available along the length of the trail.) As I read, I took notes on any tips or hints that might come in handy for us. That became almost 30 typed pages (saved to my kindle for reference).
In addition to haunting our local library system for books, I did extensive research on the internet. I was especially interested in the experiences of families who hiked with their children. I needed to assess how feasible a long-distance hike would be with daughter as companion. If you wonder about families on the trail, check out these 2014 blogs from the Kallin Family and from the Tougas Family If you have some money to spare, definitely check out the video series put together by the Tougas Family. (update 2017–these videos are now available for free) The videos were both entertaining and informative! (This was the only way I could get daughter to investigate what to expect for our trip…)
Finally, any of you who know me personally, know that I am the Queen of Lists. I made lists of possible routes, lists of gear, lists of food, lists of how to divide the weight between each of our packs, lists of school projects for daughter, lists of temperature averages, lists and lists. And, of course, I had to make a master list to keep track of all the lists! A few of the most important lists are on the trail with us (such as learning ideas and what is included in our daily rations). A few other lists are in our “bounce box” to use when we are in town (including a master shopping list for food resupply). (If you want to see a few of these detailed lists, I have posted them at Trail Journals.)
A significant question is how closely my plans and research match the realities of the trail… (that sounds like a good topic for another post…coming soon!)
(Luxuries are found in town: showers & laundry, good eats, a bit of sightseeing, and a comfy BED!)
We enjoy the beauty and the peace of our long-distance walk in the woods. But, ohhhhh, it’s good to spend time in town occasionally. So many things we take for granted at home assume the status of luxuries when compared to life on the trail.
We do just fine with no running water on the trail. (In fact, daughter is happy for an excuse to limit time wasted by washing hair every day!) Think of me when you take a long, hot, relaxing shower tomorrow—I can’t wait until I can enjoy the same luxury next time we are in town! (Just between you and me, clean hair, clean body and clean clothes tops our list of the first things to do when we hit town—otherwise folks might cross to the other side of the street to avoid that funky trail-odor!)
Next up is the food—fresh food, hot cooked food, even fast food… We carry and eat plenty of food to keep us strong and healthy to hike. But pouring hot water into a bag to rehydrate dried meals or snacking throughout the day on nuts and dried fruit just can’t compare to real cooked food! Yep, as soon as we are clean we often head straight for a treat. Will it be pizza? All-you-can eat meat and salad bar? Ice cream? Staying at a hostel with a kitchen (available in some towns) saves our wallet—we can use the community kitchen to get home-cooked taste without a restaurant tab for every meal.
Time in town is actually for food resupply and to catch up with online friends and blogs. Beyond that “work,” though, there is often an opportunity for a bit of sightseeing. On our most recent town day, we stopped by the ATC headquarters. Even though we are not “thru-hikers” (trying to complete the entire trail in one trip), we still get our photo taken to be added to the ongoing scrapbooks as long-distance hikers. Woohoo!
Have you thought recently about how wonderful it is to have a soft, cushy,bed to sleep in? That big thick mattress cannot possibly be compared to a 1 ½” thick air mattress laid on the hard, rocky ground under a tent. And don’t get me started on cool sheets and warm blankets…
Tomorrow we head back on the trail again. But for today? We are celebrating the delights of town-day!
After a long day of hiking, writing a full journal entry sometimes takes more energy than we have. As a quick way to remember the main points of each day, daughter and I try to capture “My Three Good Things” plus one negative each. I’m not a fan of baseless positive thinking…but watching for things that bring joy helps to reframe even difficult days.
We thought you might like to read a few of our favorite things from our first week on the Appalachian Trail:
“Trail Magic” … water given to us when we ran short
Daughter sings and tells stories to keep our spirits up
Fascinating critters to spy along the trail
Hot food tastes soooooo good!
Rainy days!…cool while hiking, time to hang out in the dry shelter
It’s getting easier…even on steep terrain
“Trail Magic”…oranges are amazing on a hot day
Family drove to visit us along the trail
Encouragement from on-line friends (yes, your comments really do matter!
A pizza party! (I can’t even get pizza delivered at home…)
Meeting so many fascinating people
Hanging out with others around a dancing campfire
Negatives include such things as aches and pains, being sooo exhausted, and walking in wet boots.
What are some of the “rainbows” you have found in YOUR daily life recently? (We really would like to hear your answers in the comments.)
The most common question we have been asked about making a long-distance backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail has been “Is it SAFE?” The short answer is YES! The most significant way to be safe is to plan ahead. I’ve done extensive research to assure myself that this is a reasonable endeavor. I’m not generally a risk-taker about physical things. I’m careful without being fearful. (*Except heights…I’m terrified of heights*) Obviously, I would never want to cause nor allow harm to my daughter.
“A prudent camper is always asking ‘What if?’ in anticipation of potential human and natural hazards.”–from Hiking and Backpacking by the Wilderness Education Association
A number of friends have asked if we are carrying mace or pepper spray. Some have even wondered if I have a conceal/carry permit. Sprays have limited usefulness—needing to be kept close at hand and only being accurate at a short distance from the threat. In addition to being extra, unnecessary weight, guns are banned from most park service lands, including much of the Appalachian Trail corridor.
Many folks worry about human violence. Statistically, far fewer violent crimes occur along the AT than in any city. Backpackers are poor targets. They rarely carry anything of value. In addition, few criminals have any interest in hiking miles of challenging trail for the possibility of robbing or attacking someone. It is far easier to commit a crime and quickly escape while in an urban setting. We will take basic precautions such as camping further than a mile from any road crossing and not sharing details of our hiking plans with anyone—in person or online.
Others worry about being attacked by bears. This is actually a very rare occurrence. Black bears live near much of the AT, but these bears are shy and prefer to avoid humans if possible. It is recommended to sing or whistle while hiking so any bears in the area have time to move away. To avoid attracting bears (and other critters such as porcupines or raccoons) to our sleeping area, each night we will hang all food in a “bear bag” from a high tree limb at a distance from camp. While looking for illustrations for this point, it was interesting to see that the only photos of vicious looking bears were grizzly bears which are not found in the Eastern United States.
So what hazards are we likely to face? Driving to and from the trail is likely the most risky part of the entire trip! We need to carefully avoid poison ivy. Health precautions such as filtering all water, burying human waste, and using hand sanitizer helps prevent illness. Being aware of weather conditions and taking appropriate measures avoid hypothermia are important. If one of us is injured, we are carrying basic first aid supplies. (Plus, I have certifications in Outdoor Emergency Care and as an EMT.)
Some folks get lost when driving a route they have used for months. Others apparently have an internal map in their heads including compass directions and a marker of where they are at any given moment. I’m somewhere in the middle.
Fortunately, there’s no need for an internal compass when hiking the Appalachian Trail (although it obviously wouldn’t hurt!) During the planning stages of making a tentative itinerary, I studied the latest edition of “The Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers’ Companion.” This guide offers detailed information in chart and written form about shelters, water sources, road crossings, and re-supply points. It has elevation charts of each mile of the trail including icons for pertinent information. It also includes maps of towns near the trail. I’ve torn out the relevant pages to carry with us and refer to as needed.
There are detailed topographical maps of the Appalachian Trail. Rather than buying paper sectional maps that need to be repurchased as they are updated, I’ve chosen to buy an app for my phone. Guthook’s AT Trail Guide allows us to zoom in to see close-up details of the route, including relevant photos. Although it can be used with the GPS feature on my phone, we will use it off-line as a more traditional map. Unlike paper versions, updates are free.
Finally, we will travel the AT by following the white blazes. These 2 by 6 inch vertical rectangles are painted in white on tree trunks, rocks, and signs. They are generally located within sight from one to the next. Blue blazes indicate side trails (to shelters, towns, roads, etc.) As explained by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, if we don’t see the next blaze down the trail: “If you have gone a quarter-mile without seeing a blaze, stop. Retrace your steps until you locate a blaze. Then, check to make sure you haven’t missed a turn. Often a glance backwards will reveal blazes meant for hikers traveling in the opposite direction. Volunteer trail maintainers regularly relocate small sections of the path around hazards or undesirable features or off private property. When your map or guidebook indicates one route, and the blazes show another, follow the blazes.”
With three types of navigational aids and two pairs of eyes, we should do just fine in getting from Point A to Point B without getting lost!
This morning, WE STARTED OUR ADVENTURE! Hubby is driving back to Ohio after dropping us off at the trail.
We plan to hike 5 miles today—headed for a shelter with an area beside it to pitch our tent. After a hectic final week of preparations and last minute errands, it will be nice to step into life in the slow lane. There is something quite attractive about spending two months at slow speed, walking in the woods.
While planning for this trip, we have often been asked what we are most looking forward to on our long-distance hike. Here are a few things that are common to both of us:
We love ADVENTURE!
We relax and revel in spending TIME IN NATURE.
We look forward to extended TIME FOR THINKING.
This will be good for our HEALTH: stress relief, exercise, possible weight loss, relaxation.
We love BEAUTIFUL SCENERY—and walking in the mountains should provide plenty of this!
In addition, I am looking forward to hearing the stories of those we meet, having the opportunity to practice living in the moment, and enjoying a break in regular routines. Daughter wants to learn more about nature (especially weather observation and tree identification). She spends hours drawing fantasy people and creatures and anticipates improving her skills at landscape drawing.
We have also been asked what we anticipate to be most challenging about our trip. We have tried to plan in advance what alternatives we have in case of bad weather or injury or illness. In general, backpacking on the Appalachian Trail is safer than driving across town in a busy city. (I will write more about this topic in a future post…) Our concerns tend to be much less concrete.
I wonder about the following: Will spending two months together, day in and day out, strain our relationship? How will both of us really do with limited internet availability? Will we be totally and completely sick of the types of food we can easily buy and carry with us? What if one or both of us HATE hiking for this long? On the other hand, what if we LOVE it and don’t want to head back home to a sedentary, indoor life?
Here are daughter’s concerns in her own words: “Having to live with my mom for two months. Trying to figure out how to start a fire (or rather, help mom not burn the whole forest down!) All the walking for two months straight will be challenging because I’m not the most in-shape. I wonder how long it will take before I want to turn around and head back—an hour? A couple of days?”
As a reminder, we will be off-line until we reach the next town—in about a week. Thanks for following our adventures! We appreciate your encouragement and your support.
In less than 12 hours our grand adventure begins. We will put on our backpacks, cinch the hip belt tight, and step into the woods. YIKES! Both of us have the jitters. I’m pushing away panic, wondering “what in the world was I thinking?!”
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” –Nelson Mandela
This morning I finished sorting through piles of papers and half-finished art projects. Hubby plans to do some house renovations and repairs while we are away and I certainly don’t want HIM to choose what to throw away and what to keep. (Please tell me that at least some of you are packrats…and that you understand what I’m talking about!)
Daughter and I finished cramming the last few items into our packs and hauled our things to the car. One last day of wearing my comfy jeans and favorite t-shirt, then it’s trail clothes (synthetic rather than cotton) and sturdy hiking boots for the next two months. One last night sleeping in a bed followed by a morning shower. One last session on my laptop before typing on a tiny screen on my phone when we get to internet in town.
Daughter finished the last performance of “The Suessification of Romeo and Juliet” at a local children’s theater. While she was busy with the play, hubby and I had one last “date.” For the next two months we will keep in touch by texts and phone calls on weekly town days.
It’s quiet now in the hotel room near the trail (six hours from home). Hubby and daughter are both asleep. When I finish this post, I’m headed to bed, hoping to shut down my mind and get good rest. The jitters will hopefully disappear tomorrow when we say our goodbyes and head into the woods. It’s time for the next Big Epic to begin!