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Since the inception of my AT Thru-hike, I’ve had alot of friends and family express interest in meeting Badger and me on the trail. Whether for a day, section, or “vacation”, my answer is usually the same, “Yeah sure, if you can keep up. Lemme know.”
With no real commitments I have been able to successfully skirt the issue without hurting anyone’s feelings, or seeming like a pompous dick. I guess the reason that I have used this generic answer is two fold;
1. Though I know all of you who have offered to hike with me would in a perfect world, most people have commitments and taking time off to “just hike” usually sounds easier than it is (so I’m accounting for flaking).
2. I think people see attempting to “thru” as comparable to day hikes, which it is NOT.
The life of a thru-hiker is something most people can’t fathom until they do it themselves (I know this was true for me). Besides the fact that “calling to meet-up”, a common practice in the post-cellphone era, is almost impossible because
1. phone battery and electricity, for the matter, are an extreme luxury, so I can’t just keep my phone on waiting for your call. Even if I could, it wouldn’t help because
2. the Verizon Guy never walked the AT asking “Can you hear me now?”, if he did he would know that “No douche, we can’t!” service is super shotty and most people kill batteries within an hour because it all goes to finding a network.
If we were able to just “call and meet up on the trail” a second problem would arise, you probably wouldn’t like the lifestyle; it’s not camping as most of you think. In fact, just as an example, I can count the number of beers that I’ve had while “on the trail” or “in camp” on 1 hand, not because I suddenly hate beer, but because every hiker must pack in and then out everything that they want/need between towns. And beer is HEAVY for the actual caloric value.
If you’re still like “That’s cool man, I still want to hike a few miles with you” let me explain a “typical day” for me as a thru-hiker.
I wake up with the sun, somewhere between 6:15 am – 7:10 am. Stuff my sleeping bag and pad into my pack, get my food bag down from the bear line and eat breakfasts (this usually consists of me force feeding myself calories in the form of Stickers, broken generic Pop Tarts, maybe 2 spoonfuls of peanut butter, and beef jerky down my gullet barely tasting anything).Then it’s time to brush my teeth and have my morning constitution, for which I either lean against a tree and go “al natural”, or if I’m lucky I get the “privacy” of a privy (a 3 walled structure that houses a plastic toilet over a pile of human compost on which to sit, finish, wipe, and then grab chips of mulch from a provided bucket and throw to help decomposition). Then it’s time to return to my tent, once again don my hiking uniform, and tear down my tent site. After repacking my life into a 65 Liter pack, I hoist my 35 -40 lb bag onto my back and take off to “do miles”, hoping that I remembered to obtain and treat at least 2 liters of water the night before, if not I will spend most of the morning searching for drinkable water. With my pack strapped on, simulating being choked out by a midget on my back, I will set out to do at least 15 miles for the day. Ascending and descending all day, stopping only to P, relax, and stuff more empty calories down my throat.
Don’t get me wrong the views are beautiful, but it is mostly me, by myself,.. walking at a pace of between 2.5 and 3 mph, sometimes facing rough terrain or a “tough hill” (In thru-hiker terms a “tough hill” = ~ 100 ft elevation for every 0.1 m, everything else is just “bumps” or “ridge running”). Occasionally, if one should arise, I will stop at a shelter, sign the registry, take in more empty calories, assess my physical status, and push on trying to get as many miles under my belt as I can before finding the perfect location to set up camp before nightfall.
Setting up camp is simple, If I decide to stop at a shelter and deal with the symphony of snores, to which I usually add a bassline, I will arrive by about 3 – 4 pm, blow up my air-mattress, unroll my sleeping bag (claim a spot), go retrieve and treat about a gallon of water and decide what in my diet of Snickers, Jerky, and Peanut Butter I will have for dinner. If the shelters are full, or I want any semblance of privacy, before taking-in any calories, I will find a reasonably flat space to set up my 1 person tent. After “eating” I will stuff any leftover food and food garbage back into my food bag, throw a nylon twine around a tree limb and hang, or “bear bag” my food, brush my teeth, probably write in my journal, and then go to bed. Usually asleep before 9:30 pm. All to be rested enough to wake up with the sun and walk 15 – 2? miles the next day.
Now Doesn’t that sound fun?
Some days, I actually enjoy eating and get a pleasant surprise in the form of “Trail Magic”, Badger did a great article on Trail Magic here, but in short Trail Magic is when non-hikers, or day hikers, decide to “help” thru-hikers, like myself, by providing us with special gifts that we can’t or have trouble, packing on our backs (like a hot meal or cold beverage).
If you still want to join me for “a hike”, Cool, but you’ll need equipment. Everyone on the trail needs:
- a pack & pack cover (rain is common)
- stuff sack (for clothes and food)
- sturdy shoes/boots
- sleeping bag
- trekking poles (trust me they help)
- tent (I only have a 1 person, unless you want to cowboy)
- headlamp (to see and hike at night)
Not to mention specific dates, if you tell me specifically when I can give you a best guess (within 40 miles) of where I will be.
If “hiking” with me seems like alittle more investment than you would like to make, there are a few other options. I won’t zero (take the day completely off)… well depends on who you are… but I (probably) won’t zero multiple days for anyone. So here are your options;
You could provide Trail Magic (no matter what if you come and see me I will request that you provide Trail Magic), we could arrange for a place to meet, you can provide Trail Magic, and we could spend the night in a nearby town, or stay on the trail, do low miles, and camp out at night.
or we could Aqua Blaze, some places on the trail run parallel to rivers, some people rent canoes and coolers, do lower 6 – 10 miles, while floating a cooler behind them. I want to try this, so if you’re down, let me know.
Either way if you still want to join the adventure and visit, let me know when and we can figure something out. But for entrance into the AT Community, I will require some form of Trail Magic. It’ll be worth it, you’ll be able to meet the most amount of people, who will love you and talk of your generosity for ages for the cost of about 2 pizzas and a case of soda and beer.
So hit me up with specific dates and I can’t wait to introduce you to my new world.
P.S. I am still looking for a ride to and from Bonnaroo , and I will zero for as long as needed if you can hook that up.
Goodbye Tennessee, Hello Virginia.
April 15, 2011,
I did it! My first personal milestone.
A few days ago in Hot Spring, NC, I was faced with something that every thru-hiker must encounter multiple times during this trip, A map. Only this time it wasn’t a section map, or a profile map, but instead a 3 foot wall sized map outlining the entire trail. You can understand how daunting it must be when, looking up from your Cherry Cobbler at the map on the wall, you notice that you have been on the trail for over three weeks and are yet to cover 6 vertical inches of terrain. It’s enough to drive anyone mad, and send them running back to the comfort of civilization. In order, to fight this urge many hikers break the trail down into manageable milestones, usually they may take the form or cities, or big climbs, sometimes they are more personal, like mileage markers. For me, this entire time I have been striving to hit a person goal of 320 miles, my old weekly commute.
As some of you may know, I HATE driving. The daily commute was always one of my least favorite aspects of my previous job; I’m sure that I have talked to many of you while making this robotic transportation up and down the 5 and 805. For five years each morning I would wake up, clean up, get in the car, turn on the radio, and 45 minutes to 1 hour later I would arrive in the work parking lot; still groggy. Then, every night, I would turn around and make the reverse trek, now more awake, and usually contemplating, how jaded I had become to the scenery and how much time I was wasting between destinations. To give you a better understanding lets look at the numbers.
While at my previous job in Carlsbad, CA, I lived inside the city limits of San Diego. On average I lived 32 miles, from work. Therefore I would drive 64 miles round trip 5 times a week, totaling a weekly commute average of 320 miles. Like I said this would take, in good weather (a.k.a. Not Rain), 45 minutes to an hour each way, twice a day, 5 days a week, totaling 7.5 to 10 hours a week spent in my car zoning out to a CD and thinking of how I could really utilize this time (sometimes homework, sometimes socially). It would eat away at me at how much time I was wasting, I was spending (using a base 10 hours per week, and saying I worked 50 weeks a year) 21 whole days a year in my car, just going back and forth to work. In five years, I WASTED 3.5 MONTHS ( (21 Days * 5 Years)/30 Days) of my life in a fog of traffic, just driving to and from work,.. 3.5 MONTHS! Think of everything that can be accomplished in 3.5 Months (Half of a Regular NFL Season, Most of my relationships.., More than HALF of the AT), and I’m not even factoring in Gas $, physical and mental drain of driving that distance each day, car depreciation, or other opportunity costs.
The more I look at the numbers, the more upset I would get. I was literally wasting, partially due to my own reluctance to “just move closer to work” (which would have put me further from school mind you), days, Weeks, MONTHS, of my life in a car, tuned out. Well it may have taken me 26 days, and at times I may seemed tuned out, but I have finally traveled 320 miles, 1 WEEKS commute and not wasted a second. My body, like my car has some bumps and bruises, and I may just have 1861 more miles to go (Slightly over 6.8 % complete), but I don’t mind and I’ll take those as they come. I’ve learned more in this “weeks commute” than ever before, Thanks AT.
The Appalachian Trail Community is as diverse as the flaura, fauna, and topography of the trail itself. It contains members, not only from America, but from places as far as Germany and Japan, who have flocked to the East Coast with hopes of hiking all, or just a portion of the trail. However, unlike most communities, where members are segregated due to education, income, or previous social status, this community places very credence in where a person is from and allows for personal reinvention based on your life on the trail, time within the community, and your direction or destination. To this point the community can actually be broken into three segments; NOBOs, SOBOs, & HOBOs.
Keeping in mind, backpacking (hiking) unlike most traditional sports requires little, to no, initial skill and minimal equipment. In order to undertake a long distance one needs only a pack, “sturdy” footwear, and, usually, treking poles. The contents of the pack and any other accessories are entirely up to the individual hiker. It is because of this that differentiating between the three types of hikers on appearance alone is almost, but not always, impossible.In order to make an accurate differentiation, one must hold a conversation with specific hikers and draw their own conclusion. In order to accurately classify a hiker on the AT one must ascertain that hiker’s start location and direction.
The first classification, NOBOs, or Northern Bound Hikers is traditionally the largest group. Badger and I fall into this group. Whether section hiking or attempting the thru (entire trail) hike, this group starts South and heads North towards Maine. NOBOs traditionally begin in, or before, Spring and head North before the brutal Summer, bug season, and hunting season, for these reasons, as well as the shear number that attempt this path over any other, the NOBO hike is what usually comes to mind when one first hears “I’m hiking the AT.”
SOBOs, or Southern Bound hikers, begin at Mnt. Katahdin, ME sometime in mid-June, besides weather and hunting season, these few brave souls begin with, arguably, up the toughest terrain on the trail, and face the 100 Miles of Wilderness all before leaving their first of 14 states. Those that continue will be racing Mother Nature South into the fall and winter. It is not uncommon for SOBOs to be forced off the trail due to snow and inclement weather. Some, like this that I have passed so far in my journey, end up making it as far as possible before hibernating for the winter, only to return to the trail in the spring with intentions of completing their voyage South to Spinger. Both NOBOs and SOBOs are respected members of the AT Community, and those who finish should be congratulated on their accomplishment.
However, like I said, since hiking requires only minimal equipment, and offers seclusion, shelter, and anonymity, a third segment of society has emerged; HOBOs. HOBOs like in traditional society are directionless wanderers. Unfortunately on the AT, where it can sometimes be days or weeks between towns, these HOBOs cause a larger threat than in traditional, urbanized society.
The AT is filled with horror stories of HOBO encounters resulting in crime. These stories run the gambit, from murder to petty theivery; a few years back a HOBO was squatting between shelters in GA, NC, and TN, stealing articles from the packs of hikers that he would encounter, sometimes even jumping off the trail to rob homes and businesses in nearby towns, until one determined police officer and a series of fortuitous events led to his capture. (More on the story of “Injun”, or “Saved” as he was known, can be found here).
Though a significant majority of people along the AT are respectful NOBOs or SOBOs, HOBOs do exist. AT hikers must be aware of their surroundings and take as much precaution as one would to protect from bears and other harmful animals, though wild creatures are far more prevalent and abundant along the trail than their diabolical human counterparts.
Don’t let this post dissuade you from attempting any hike, just take it as a reminder that no society is ultimately perfect. Though at first glance the hiker community may seem all treehugger and granola, and for the most part it is (which is why I like it), just as any society it has its bad apples. Ex-web designers, executives, school teachers and military men may be looking for escape, seclusion, and anonymity, but keep in mind so are the dregs of society. When on the trail, as with anywhere, trust your instincts and make sure that you feel comfortable in any situation. If you don’t, GET OUT! Remember as I said, a majority is the people that you meet on the AT will be helpful, friendly NOBOs or SOBOs doing all that they can to make the trail and the experience the best that is could possibly be for everyone. Just keep an eye out for those HOBOs and if you see one, let your fellow hikers know so they too can be prepared.
Prior to coming onto the trail I had heard of trail names; nicknames given to hikers while on the trail. But until living in the community I had thought, except for being a cool part of the experience, these names were frivelous. After one night on the trail, and two conversations at Hawks Shelter, I realized ‘Boy was I wrong’.
As I approached and introduced myself, I was greeted by a white haired whaite bearded gentleman, probably late 60’s mid 70’s, intently puffing on a dark cherry wood pipe.
“They call me SmokeStack and this is SwampDawg.” He pointed at a slightly younger, 60’sish gentleman across the shelter.
Within moments I was introduced to “River” and “Cope”, immediately I knew “John” wasn’t going to cut it. I could always just use my last name as I had for as long as I can remember, but I had a feeling that that too wouldn’t cut it. So when asked my trail name, I just stared blankly and said, “I don’t know”.
“Well keep sayin that and it will be your trail name.”
The four AT Vets then proceeded to try and trail name me. Since it was night 1, and the only distinguishing factor that I possessed was my head mounted GoPro Camera, the names were all pretty generic. That night before heading to bed I was dubbed “F-Stop” and told toe “Sleep on it.”
At the time I still didn’t understand the whole trail name phenomenon, but River had laid out the basic ground rules. What noone had explained, however, was the actual importance of the trail name. I’d have to find that out the next day, on my own.
The rules for trail names were simple: Good trail names:
- are short
- are easy
- are pertinent to the individual
And by the time that I left camp the next morning, I had already named 1 other hiker, Coach, and been offered 3 suggestions all dealing with the head cam (F-stop, B-Reel, and Snap). Snap was trhe leader but it still didn’t feel right. Plus, by day 2 the camera battery had died and wearing a dead head camera, or any camera for that matter, all of the time just to perpetuate a trail name was NOT happening.
I still didn’t fully understand the reason for trail names until Zach and I started hiking. Day 1 had been a short 9 mile hike from Springer, and our excitement had kept us both moving at an almost identical pace. Day 2 was not like that at all, old pros to the AT (we had been on it for almost 24 hours), we began to discover our own paces. Zach popped in his earbuds, I threw on my pack, and we headed out to the next shelter. Keeping pace for the first 0.5 miles , then I began to separate as we climbed, however as the climb peaked and we descended Zach caught up and began disappearing in the trees ahead.
“Hey” I yelled… nothing. “Yo are we stopping at the next shelter”…nothing. His IPod was playing and he was keeping pace with the music. As the trail flattened and began to ascend Justus Mountain I started to pass other hikers.
“Hey have you seen Zach?”
“What’s his trail name?”
“Doesn’t have one yet.”
“Well he has short red hair and a blue shirt.”
“Don’t think so.”
The conversation repeated almost verbatim with the second hiker that I passed. I guess I hadn’t thought about it but with thousands hiking some section of the AT each year keeping every “Zach” or “John” straight would be impossible, but with only one “Bat”, “River”, or “Cope” it would be easy to differentiate and easier to track down. This thought rattled around in my brain as I thought of my current possibilities and continued to push up the mountain. Then about 20 paces ahead I saw a glimmer of his pack. “Zach!”… he pushed on, I pushed the ascent harder. “Hey Zach!”…still nothing. At this point he was 15 paces in front of me, I realized not only was I gaining on him, but with his earbuds in he would have no clue until I was right behind him.
Instinctively I did what I had done in college if I wanted to get a freinds attention without continually screaming their name, or making a scene.
“WHOOP!” He stopped, alittle startled, I had forgotten that my San Diego friends weren’t used to the St. Alphonsus Street Call. He looked back puling his earbuds from his ears, I “WHOOP’d” again.
“There it is. What was that?”
“I wanted to get your attention.” I answered . We continued the ascent talking about my possible trail names as we approached another hiker. I let out another WHOOP to let him know that we were coming fast up the mountain.
As we passed we exchanged pleasentries and began all hiking together, when Twiggs (formerly “Gnomeo”) asked my trail name .
“I’m not sure yet, either Snap or WHOOP!”
“There it is” Twiggs and Zach both agreed almost immediately.
“WHOOP!” just felt right, it was like my natural ‘Hey Heads up, I’m here’ – It was loud expressive, fun, and it fit all the trail name criteria. Everything had just clicked. I had my trail name, and with it and AT persona.
WHOOP!… there it was.
(Disclaimer: as a child of the late 80’s early 90’s and lifelong Hip Hop fan, I realize that the song is actually Whoomp There it is.)
Time: 7 pm
Weather: Rain / Gloom
Location: San Diego Airport
The skies wept the tears of a city today as a March Rain escorted us from “Sun” Diego. It was an almost fitting, bitter/sweet end to my most recent chapter.
Location: Exit Row US Airways
My last day in San Diego…
I wanted this journal to flow almost like a narrative, almost because even my most direct stories take tangents & rabbit holes that follow my thought process, but it doesn’t look like that is gunna happen.
So maybe I can take this opportunity to answer the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) of my like lately.
Q: First, what are u doing?
A: I’m thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, it’s a 2187 mile trail that runs from Georgia to Maine.
Q: Oh, cool… how long is that goin to take?
A: It looks like 4 – 6 months, but we’re planning on doing it in about 5.
Q: Wait so you’re going tbo do the WHOLE thing?! That’s crazy, what about food, are you just going to eat berries & stuff?
A: No, we mail some ahead & buy some, but either way we carry all the food that we’ll need…Like 13-15 lbs.
Q: So why?
A: This is the question for which I have the best & worst explanation; the true answer is “I don’t know”.
Initially, when I got the idea to thru-hike it was because I needed an escape. The pressures of school had recently been lifted, but I sar myself as trapped, like a rat, in a cube. Like any caged animal, I yearned for more freedom, and for some reason I saw the AT as a way to achieve a safe, manageable, escape from reality (I hope I was right).
When I was thrust from my cage the AT became more than just an intangible escape. It became – a future without regiment – a way to test my natural limits – a defining character in any introduction – a realizable dream.
Q: Ok… but won’t you miss San Diego?
A: I don’t know if any single day on the trail will compare to my last day in SD; but…
I don’t know many people that would wake up one day in a semi-comfortable bed, in a palacial beach house, bodies intertwined with a gorgeous nerd with the silhouette of a runway model and still even consider the thought of “escape”… or more accurately walking a 150 + days, sleeping on the ground in the elements, carrying all your belongings on your back, shitting in the woods, & for lack of a better description: wallowing in their own filth. Wow, Just writing that sentence causes feelings of doubt & has me questioning my own mental state.
But adventures aren’t easy. And I was “saine” when this Idea began, so all I can do now is relax, like I keep telling my family (parents) and put 1 foot in front of the other.
Some part of me needs this trail, and NEEDS to finish it. I don’t really know why. But I’m sure this voyage will help me figure it out. Either way, I’ll be in Great shape, & after San Diego will still be there.
Next post will be from the trail.