Appalachian Trail Adventure
The Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail is a continuous footpath from Georgia to Maine - 2,160 miles. I hiked it from its southern end at Springer Mountain, Georgia to its northern terminus on Katahdin in Maine. I planned and prepared for this effort beginning March of 1998. I started on April 15th , 1999 (tax day) and finished on September 6th (labor day). The schedule I had initially planned was mostly what I actually did, although the 18 days I took off in the middle of the walk was a week longer than I had planned and I took one week longer to complete the Vermont-Maine section because of some mail drop problems and the more difficult than anticipated terrain.
My Appalachian Trail Site
This page and accompanying linked pages document my preparations and provide useful information and tools for planning and preparing for a long distance hike. I will also be discussing my thoughts and feeling regarding my hike. If you would like to respond or contribute to anything you see here, please feel free to contact me.
I will be posting descriptions and photos of my hike upon my return The photos will go up as soon as the pictures are developed and the information is received. More than half of them are currently on the site. I haven't had enough time to get the rest on yet, but I am working on it. Click here for Daily Logs listing. Click on each entry for the full text. Short descriptions of each picture are listed at the bottom. Click on the description to view the picture. These pictures are large and take a while to download - up to two minutes at 28.8K. This site is hosted on a T3 line so if you have a fast connection such as T1 or cable modem, they will load quickly. For those of you who can't wait for me to link the pictures to the particular day, you can Click Here and see them all in order in the category AT\GAME99.
I am not the same person who started preparing for the trail 1 1/2 years ago. I lost 60 pounds... from 225 to 165. I am now in the best shape of my life, My blood pressure is 100/70 with a resting pulse of 52 per minute. I felt old, tired, and limited before my hike. I have regained a sense of vigor, potential and excitement honed from long strenuous days in the company of much younger people who found the trail to be too much for them. I know I have the aptitude and attitude to take on a physical and mental challenge that, even having done it, still seems ludicrously difficult. Before I embarked on my trek, the longest hike I had ever done was 40 miles. I am now considering a "short" hike for next year... 500 miles on the Colorado Trail. Life seems full of great things to do and wonderful places to see. The Appalachian Trail was a magnificent experience, yet I would not do it again because there are so many other completely new and different things I want to do first.
Although I did not have a Satori moment (see below), I have a new perspective on work versus a walk in the sunshine, relationships versus achievement, money versus time. I know that the person who said "Its a small world" didn't have a clue. Being able to drive for just one hour and be 60 miles away is something to marvel at. Everywhere you go there are roads, bridges and tunnels that make high speed, long distance travel something most people never think about. They should. They should think about the work, the time, the knowledge, the skill, the dedication and the money that goes into the convenience of their high technology transportation systems, They should also consider the pressure, impatience and stress induced by an afternoon traffic jam on the freeway in the light that if they had to walk it would take them all day to just get home not just an extra 20 minutes.
I am much more aware of the onslaught from all sides of inducements to eat food that is expensive and not very good for you. It was a shock coming out of the Hundred Mile Wilderness and seeing signs of impossibly large, juicy burgers, French fries, steaks, sodas leering from road signs for mile after mile. People in towns along the trail had started to look like the Michelin man, pasty white dough boys and girls, so unlike the lean hard hikers on the trail. Yet surrounded by constant access and encouragement to consume excessive quantities it is a wonder everyone is not even larger.
And so I have a new challenge. To retain the perspective of the trail in the midst of civilization. To enjoy the simple things, to eat well and appropriately, to enjoy a warm day, to not be rushed, to appreciate a warm shower, a crisp morning, clean sheets, to maintain my fitness, to appreciate my family, to enjoy the rain, and to plan another adventure.
To those who are thinking about the trail, I can only say that it might be one of the greatest things you ever do in your life. It is undeniably incredibly hard. But whether you do some or all of it, if you spend any significant amount of time on the trail, you will not be the same and you will remember it always. I envy those of you starting out in 2000 as that whole experience lies ahead of you. As for me, I am planning my next adventure..... ONWARD
Here are some thoughts prior to my starting the trip. And comments afterward.
I have chosen a trail name of Satori . This is a Zen concept that is perhaps best described as "inspirational enlightenment" - a cross between "Eureka!" and epiphany. Although I am not a practitioner of Zen philosophy, I do believe that there are moments in our lives when we see our world completely differently and because of that experience never see it again in quite the same way. It is important to be open to these rare moments and both cognizant and appreciative of them when they do occur. Satori is not something that one can will or force but rather something that happens spontaneously to those who are paying attention.
So why do this? Many have asked me this and many have been asked this question. There are some famous answers, from Sir Edmund Hillary who replied simply "Because it is there." to Henry David Thoreau who said, "...because I wish to live deliberately." I think we often go to the top of a mountain to find what we have lost at the bottom.
So what are mine? I'm really not sure. I know that it appeals to me because I see it as a challenge that I am not sure I can meet and I do like to challenge myself. It is something that I will find satisfaction in the rest of my life. It is something I have been interested in doing "someday" and as next year is my 49th, I am running out of "somedays". I feel I would regret it if I let this go by and looked back in twenty years and say, "I sure wish I had." I know that the idea of hiking for four months over such a great distance appeals to me in part because others find it not to be appealing. That so few others would attempt to do it, and that I am set apart form the general populace if I do accomplish it, makes it interesting. Since roughly 2000 people attempt the trail in a year, if I at least start I'm one in a hundred thousand. If I am among the 200 or so who finish the trail, I am one in a million. That would be a good thing.
Most of my friends and acquaintances think this is a whacked out thing to do. The wife is not interested in the outdoors or sports of any kind and consequently is neither physically capable nor sufficiently mentally tolerant of the discomfort that this journey will entail, a concern I have about my own journey. Once I had completed a significant portion of the trail she encouraged me to keep going and finish the trip. She was very good on my mail drops without which the journey would have been very difficult. My business partner sees this as an abandonment of my responsibilities here at work, which in a sense it is. He became much more supportive after I actually got on the trail. He gave me a new pair of Leki hiking poles for the second half of the trip. These really were a great help in the much more rocky part of the trail in New Hampshire and Maine. My ski poles were completely worn out by Pennsylvania. I believe the poles saved several potentially nasty falls. My father is so monochromatic is his pursuit of activities in boats that he can't imagine anyone being interested in the mountains for longer than two weeks, much less walking the whole time. This is still mostly true all though I think he can admire an effort of this magnitude, even if it is on land. My mother is afraid I will come to harm, particularly since I am not intending to have a hiking partner. My recent fracture of my arm on a Colorado rafting trip does little to reassure her on that matter. I made it without major incident so that as time passed I think she relaxed a little.
Hence my immediate contacts tend to try to discourage me at every opportunity. I have persisted in my plans and preparations. This in a sense encourages me as I may find the mental rigors of the hike no harder than the maintenance of my desire and dedication to starting this trip. Getting started is a much harder thing than keeping going. I found the trip (mostly) fairly easy to maintain the desire to keep going. I am sure this in part was due to the relatively little rain I experienced on the trail. Two solid weeks of rain might have changed my mind, but I suspect I would have adapted to that as well.
I have found pleasure in reading the journals of those through hikers who have posted their experiences on the web. My thanks to them for letting me vicariously join their trips. It helps. I have exchanged email with others who have hiked the trail and the answers to my questions have informed me and renewed my anticipation of my hike. I have joined the AT Class of 99 at Trailplace and it is interesting to get email coming in every day and hearing and seeing all the people who are planning their trips. I feel a sense of community and solidarity with them already and I look forward to meeting them on the trail.
Practice Hike - Walking the AT near Elk Wallow in Shenandoah National Park - August 1998 - Using homemade backpack #1 This was the easiest section of the whole trail.. Had I started on some other part of the trail, I might have decided I could not do the entire AT. |I have been working on my gear list, trying to keep my pack weight at 15 pounds and total weight at 20. My stating pack weight was 28 pounds with 9 days of food. I left Damascus with 12 days of food, some heavy fresh items and a total pack weight of 38 pounds. That was pure agony. I vowed then and there to never let my pack weight go over 30 pounds and I stuck to that the rest of the trip. Coming into a few towns with 1/2 to 1 days food left, my pack weight approximately 20 pounds. I made incredible miles the several days before a restocking town. I have also been working on me trying to get under 200 pounds. The Holidays were a set back in this area. I started the trail at 205 lbs, weighed 175 at my break in Delaware Water Gap, weighed 185 two and a half weeks later when I went back to the trail and weighed 165 at the end. After 5 weeks I have gained 10 pounds back to 175 so I have to start watching the weight again. It is not easy to find a substitute for walking all day carrying a Ramen and a Lipton for your days food!|
I have been training by taking test hikes and walking mileage throughout the summer, and as we transition into winter in Maryland I have moved the training indoors to the stationary bicycle and the rider. I am trying to gradually increase the training, but with work schedules it is difficult. I am considering looking for a treadmill or stepper. Although I put 2160 miles on a stationary bicycle and 700 miles of walking around town, it was not really enough. I had planned to do some concentrated stair climbing at the local parking garage the two weeks before I left, but last minute work requirements kept me from getting any exercise the last two weeks. This really hurt the first couple weeks on the trail. I certainly would have been better off with the extra altitude gain training.
|I have been testing both my new Esbit solid fuel stove and my selection of food. The stove works great and is really, really simple. The only drawback I can see is the necessity of supplying the fuel by mail drop as there is no likelihood of getting it in local stores. The individually wrapped tablets are light convenient, boil a quart of water in 8 minutes and continue to burn effectively for another seven minutes. It is a perfect arrangement for the type of freeze dried foods packages I will be using. There is nothing to break, clog or lose with this stove. The tablets can also be used to start a regular wood fire should that be necessary or desirable. Although the fuel is more expensive than alternate types, even in bulk from the manufacturer, the price of the stove itself (really just a support for the fuel and the pot) makes up for the difference. Calculating the weight of the stove and fuel over a 10 day carry, this stove is one half the weight of the lightest gas stove I could find and comparable with alcohol stoves. Overall I was really pleased with the performance of the Esbit stove. I did switch to a Coleman Expedition white gas stove for the White Mountains because the Esbit could be difficult to light in the wind. However, it was not really necessary to have done so and the Esbit would have been OK all the way through. The inability of the Esbit to simmer was its only drawback, more than made up for by its convenience and light weight. If I had been cooking for more than one however the stove would have been a better choice. Although the food selection was a little dreary, it did suit my stomach and nutritional needs very well on this journey. I found the most well liked things were Mac and Cheese with the noodles of a Ramen added to it. A Lipton noodle dinner with the spice packet from the previous Ramen dinner added to it. Stove Top stuffing with a liberal dash of Tobasco sauce. I noted that a number of hikers developed stress fractures during their hikes. I believe that my relatively heavy use of powdered milk may have helped me avoid a similar problem. I switched to chewable vitamins to ensure that my daily vitamin would be absorbed in the less than 24 hours that food stayed in my intestinal system. I found peanut butter to be too heavy in both weight and taste. I much preferred cashews as a trail gorp over peanuts. I used granola bars (Nature Valley) a lot and also bags of pure granola for breakfast. I found that my calorie requirement went up dramatically when I hit the White Mountains and Maine. I probably ate twice as many calories per day as I did in Virginia. I had very little reserve left and in fact if I did not stop to eat lunch as I frequently did not farther south, I would just run out of gas in the mid afternoon. If you listen to your body it will tell you what you need. I suspect that several people who quit in the Whites did so because of insufficient nutrition, Although at the end I was not overjoyed at eating the yellow corn grits that I carried as a staple from the beginning of the trip, they did noticeably give me lots of energy when I ate them|
Because food is such a personal issue, I do not think that you should take any specific recommendation from anyone regarding item selection However some thoughts on the subject in general.
I believe that food & nutrition is a subject that is not considered in sufficient depth by many hikers. From my study of internet sites by thru hikers I had concluded prior to my trip that many of those who quit after completing major portions of the trip did so because they "ran out of gas" possibly because of poor nutrition. I also had decided on a light weight strategy so food weight as well as nutrition was important in my food selection.
I lost a LOT of weight during my trip from 205 pounds to 165. However, I felt that at the end, although thin, I was not degrading my muscularity or stamina. I felt incredibly well and strong, perhaps more so than I ever have in my entire life. However, I did not have much in reserves and if I did not stop to have a substantial lunch in the middle of the day, I ran out of gas in mid-afternoon and felt weak. I had not been having lunch during the middle part of my AT hike. This brings up the most important advice I can give you regarding your hike, whether it is food or any other subject, and that is to be flexible and listen to what your body tells you it needs.
I did extensive experimentation with my food selections prior to my trip, even going as far as buying a week worth of my planned trail food and eating exclusively that for the entire week. I figured if I could do that when temptation abounded, I could do it when opportunity to stray off the menu would be limited. I also wanted to see how my palate and predilections would tolerate my somewhat Spartan diet. I made several adjustments then and many more as I experimented over the year prior to my trip.
Many of my fellow hikers were losing weight also. A notable exception were the Happy Hikers who looked just the same when I saw them in Gorham New Hampshire after they flipped from south to north as they had 3 months earlier in the first week of the trail. They were dedicated knowledgeable vegans who were already consuming a grain and vegetable diet and were very healthy looking. I am sure they finished their hike. This year once again, several hikers made it all the way to the White Mountains and quit there or in the Maine mountains. They were so close but did not have the stamina to finish. I suspect that their diet is in part responsible.
My personal feeling is that your diet has to be based on good quality unprocessed foods. My staple was a yellow corn grit or Polenta to some. It is extremely space conservative, expanding 5 to 1 when hydrated, its nutritious, unprocessed grain. In addition I happen to like them. I tries Quinoa, Couscous, and rice and rejected them as a staple for various reasons, but primarily taste and convenience, They all have approximately the same nutritional value. I used butter flavored Crisco shortening. Before you become totally appalled, a look at the contents label will show that it is composed of healthy vegetable oils. In fact only olive oil would have been better, but I did not like the way olive oil made the grits taste so i used the Crisco.
This grain based diet and the intense exercise makes the residency time of any food you eat very short, at times with very little notice. I had planned much of my menu around different types of instant beans, but the preceding and the tight quarters of the shelters persuaded me to substitute more noodles and bread stuffing for the beans. I also was one of the few to use much powdered milk. This year as in previous years several hikers were forced off the trail with stress fractures. It is probable wise to keep up your calcium content. I also took a daily multiple vitamin and a Vitamin C tablet, both in chewable form because of the aforementioned short residency time.
Sometimes the trail is Cold
Sometimes the trail is Rocky
Sometimes the trail is Muddy
Sometimes the trail is easy to follow.
Sometimes it is not.
Sometimes the trail has man-made impediments.
Sometimes the trail is beautiful garden footpath (Trail at Three Forks Rhododendron along the trail. )
I have just started on my planning for mail drops I think I will use a combination of about 10-12 mail drops and a send-ahead or "drift" box. In general the mail drops worked well. I used 10 mail drops which let me get those things I could not easily find in towns at prices that I could withstand. Yet they were not so frequent as to dictate or control my trip. It seemed others on the trail who were picking up mail-drops more frequently, every 5 days or so, were prisoner to their next mail drop, having to time their days to arrive in town when the post office was open. At the end it got harder and harder to remember that the post office wasn't open from Saturday noon until late Monday morning. I gave up on the drift box before I was half way through. I found that there just weren't enough things in it that I really needed to keep bouncing it along.
Appalachian Trail Pick of the Pics
Appalachian Trail PoetryI have never written any poetry before. Long periods of quiet contemplation surrounded by the natural beauty of the trail inspired me to write these poems in my head as I walked along. I would write them down that evening or at a lunch break. I hope you enjoy them.
The dawn breaks clear and cold
The clouds do not remain
Perhaps I am not too old
And my plans are not in vain
So up and out and be bold
Ignore last evening's pain
Stride on to Autumn's gold
On that lonesome peak in Maine
I am my mother's only son
A hale and hardy guy
But my mom is convinced
On this trail I'll die
A slip or trip or sudden pitch
Over some precipitous peak
My crushed and broken body
Won't be found for a week.
So I stop at every phone
To send in my regret
To my very worried mom
I haven't died just yet.
A Different View
I am my father's only son
He looks and sounds like me
I wander the mountains green
While he sails the azure sea.
With canvas taught to the wind
The waves sing his lullaby
My winds blow through the trees
On crags hard against the sky
He does not understand
The trekking that I do
But we each must realize
Its just a different view.
Big bag of dung on iron clad hooves
It stumbles up the trail.
Crushing stones and bruising roots
Pleas of care to no avail.
Astride it sits the Marlboro man
Feet above the fray,
Gouging out another rut
In the soft red clay.
Spreading equine apples
Drawing flies from miles around
Fouling all the water holes
And pawing up the ground.
As I stand to the side of the trail
To get out of their way,
I smile and say as they pass by
"Hello. Have a nice day."
Gossamer threads barring my way
Spun anew every day
Delicate beauty full of grace
Now stretched taut across my face
Such industry ruined seems unjust
To walk this trail destroy I must
So little spiders spanning tree to tree
Catch your bugs but don't catch me!
Voice of God.
Shadows scurry from the bluish light
And slip back into the Stygian night
Quiet awaits the thunders might
Crashing down valleys lost to sight
Should we cower in mortal fright
Or marvel in wondrous delight
To see but dimly a brief insight
The glory of God at heaven's height.
Chestnut brown has turned to gray
Laugh lines crease cheeks and stay
Lithe form once pleasing fair
Has slipped a bit here and there.
The adze of time has hewn its pawn
But deep within as fresh as dawn
A golden heart does still endure
Shining forth it's luster pure.
Golden veins of morning's light
Dance upon my tarp.
Woodland songs echo down
From feathered flute and harp.
A burbling brook tumbles down
Toward its destiny.
Joined by all of its kind
To fill a salty sea.
Rise once more to gain some ground
Tred the whole day through
Joined by those of my kind
Who walk the path I do.
Though we've sprung from far off lands
Common are our goals
To calm our listless hearts
And sate our searching souls
Long before that one last step
On the highest peak
Hard bodies and freed minds
Create the prize we seek.
At the final crest we turn
To view the trail just done
We see not journey's end
But yet - another one.
Snorting terror outside my tent
Whose thin walls will soon be rent
By claws of some blood drenched beast
That seeks me out as its feast
From the camp store why oh why
With that chance I did not buy
A sleeping bag with Kevlar lining
That would slow this horror's dining
It paws the ground, rends the trees
Making me weak in my knees
Time to brace up and be brave
To escape a grisly grave
I'll shine my light in its face
Spray it with my can of Mace
I'll jab my pole in its eye
It will feel pain before I die
I'll kick and bite, scream and yell
Given the chance I'll run like hell
Unzip the tent it's right here
Never mind it's only a deer.
Oh Sylvia your dappled smile greets my morning eyes
As heady musk of fecund earth all around me lies.
Soft flutters of your autumnal crown from breath so sweetly light
Fall over shoulder and angled arm and down on out of sight.
A shapely peak and its match with gentle valley in between
Where lies your wild and virgin heart that no man has fully seen?
What exquisite feelings come to me as I lay deep in your fold
Experience that can not be shared, bought, repackaged or sold.
Some say that they love you but then abuse your trust instead
And care not if your beauty fades and slowly withers dead
Oh Sylvia I promise you from my deepest soul
To love and to care for you is my only goal
All content on this and linked pages are Copyright 1999. No reproduction without written permission