After an uneventful day and a half in Hot Springs, NC–a mediocre town originally named “Warm Springs,” primarily redeemed by being physically on the AT–we climbed out of the river valley into a thick blanket of fog. Rain and fog stuck with us for our four day journey to Erwin, with one wonderful exception of a day that we’ll discuss later, so photos are few and far between.
Given this and the fact that we have been on the trail over three weeks, we feel better qualified to offer a glimpse of what our “trail life” is like.
Although every day is different, most break down something like this (in descending order of time spent):
1. Sleeping. We are currently averaging 10-11 hours of sleep per night, essentially from sun down to sun up. On particularly cold nights, we’re likely to be in the sleeping bag even longer as the desire to linger outside after dinner is minimal.
Sleep has become a critical factor in our ability to hike day after day. Even when we hobble into camp after a twenty mile day, a good night’s sleep leaves us refreshed and excited for the next day’s challenge. Nights we sleep poorly tend to precede grueling, grouchy days.
Amazingly, all three of us have become quite accustomed to sleeping happily and soundly in the tent. Our double sleeping bag is tremendously comfortable and proximity to stinky Travis hasn’t caused any problems yet. On the coldest nights, we may or may not zip Willett into the bottom of the bag–with his little head poking out the lower zip for ventilation, of course. It makes for a delightfully warm and furry foot warmer.
Willett’s initial tendency to growl at the sound of every falling leaf and snapping twig has vanished, although he remains a bit anxious at dusk and daybreak with all the mysterious shadows…
2. Hiking. An average hiking day is about 8-9 hours and between 15 and 20 miles. We generally plan daily mileage in 3-4 day chunks between resupply points. The AT Handbook we carry indicates the mileage between shelters, campsites, and water sources and makes things much easier for us. Within these 3-4 day periods we’ll often tweak the mileage a bit, speeding up or slowing down to avoid bad weather or make it to town faster.
We generally try to get at least half of our daily mileage in before lunch, with generous snacking before and after. Most of our on-trail interactions with other hikers occur at these breaks as we escape the elements for snack at a shelter or enjoy a picnic in a sunny gap. For the most part, however, our days are spent as a party of three. We typically walk in a “Willett Sandwich” formation with Travis leading the way, the dog in the middle, and me as caboose. This ensures Willett is kept in check and any marauding bears/snakes/sharks see Travis first.
Remarkably, it’s been three and a half weeks but we still have things to talk about. Primarily food things–favorite family recipes, pie brainstorming sessions, must-haves during the next town visit, etc. When all else fails, we discuss interesting rocks, lichen, trees, and how to win the future. That said, many stretches are silent, particularly those requiring full lung capacity or a keen eye towards ankle-rolling rocks.
Also, Willett’s feet are in fine form and he is acclimating well to life with a pack. He just hates putting it on…
3. Eating!!! Since nothing we cook requires more than a few moments of boiling water, cooking and eating comprise a mere 2-3 hours of the day.
Our kitchen includes the following:
-a small alcohol stove (care of thruhiker alum Joseph!)
-a 2-quart aluminum pot with lid
-two 1-pint deli tubs
-two long-handled titanium spoons
-a keychain Swiss Army knife
Breakfast is typically a hot beverage (instant coffee or homemade “mocha mix”) accompanied by cold oats (instant oatmeal mix with cold water) or a breakfast sandwich (6 bagels + 1 johnsonville sausage + 1 block of cheese = 6 sammies).
Snacks include Clif Bars, candy bars, and the infamous GOFAMCHAMP.
Lunches generally have a bread or cracker (Wasa is a current favorite), tuna in a pouch, peanut butter, and a little bit of chocolate or some other sweet.
Camp snacks–the immediate energy source for transitioning from walking to making camp– include jerky, pretzels, chips, and other salty delights.
Dinner is the closest we come to “cooking” but most often looks like boiling up some water to add to: couscous with freeze-dried veggies, instant mashed potatoes, minute brown rice, and ramen noodles. We try to carry add-ins like olive oil, summer sausage, and parmesan cheese to keep things interesting (and caloric…). We’ll finish that off with some cookies dipped in peanut butter and somehow it all feels quite satisfying.
4. Daily activities
Although life is much simpler when your primary goal is walking to Maine, the day to day routines require a good bit of work. We spend about half an hour each evening building our home and another half hour taking it down each morning. It looks something like this:
Evening–We get the tent set up first thing as it is easiest with two people. Afterwards we put on warm clothes, apply liberal amounts of Gold Bond to our feet, and eat salty snacks. Willett has supper and curls into a small nugget during all of this. Travis then scouts a good tree for hanging our food out of reach of bears while I set up the sleeping situation. We reconvene to cook dinner and brush our teeth. From there, we’re off to the sleeping bag for a bit of blogging or planning if energy suffices.
Morning–As soon as we are up, Travis is off to retrieve our food from the tree (only once has it frozen to the branch in a nearly irretrievable manner…). I tend to matters inside the tent, packing the sleeping bag and pads into stuff sacks and ensuring Travis takes his multivitamin. Willett always awakes full of energy, leaping around and throwing sticks to himself. After a quick breakfast, we get everything situated into the packs and head off on our day.
Most days, we wake up camped near a shelter with 5-10 other thruhikers. They range from 16 to 60 years old but most appear to be 20-something white males. Mealtimes are the most social times of the day and conversations revolve primarily around weather, food, and gear. Everyone has been very friendly, albeit a bit goofy from the day’s exertion.
We often find ourselves playing leap frog with another hiker or group for a few days, passing them and being passed until one of us stops in town.
While we have a growing number of recognizable companions on the trail, we have yet to spend much time bonding with others. We imagine that by the time things shake out up north, we’ll have found a number of good friends.
So that’s about it. I’m sure things will shift again over the coming months, so keep the questions coming!