A Story From My First Week on the AT: Asking For Help

Phew, I made it to the Nantahala Outdoor Center, about 130 miles into the Appalachian Trail. The past week synthesized into a few words would be: sun – rain – wet, wet, and soaked – thank the universe for sun! I also met a few folks along the way.

Soaked is where the story starts…

Day 2 – It Rained

I woke up on Day 2 camped at the Stover Creek Shelter and it was pouring rain. I quickly packed up my stuff, ate some breakfast, and started walking. Almost immediately I began to feel my rain jacket soak through. I realized that this was a day where I wouldn’t stop hiking unless it was under a roof. Most of my day involved walking and stopping at any chance to get out of the rain. Brief stops under a shelter and at the Woody Gap parking lot were much needed reprieve from the 12 hour drizzle.

I arrived at the spot I planned to camp and most of the tent pads were full of puddles. Whatever… I thought to myself. I set up my shelter and hopped in, changing my clothes as quickly as possible to get warm.

That evening it felt cold — after dinner my partner and I decided to make hot water bottles. In our time spent in cold and wet conditions in the past, putting water bottles filled with hot water in the bottom of our sleeping bags has saved us from some shivering nights.

The Hiker Box at Neel Gap, GA

A few days later I arrived at Neel Gap to pick up a resupply box and another important item:

Fuel.

I had burned through most of the fuel I had making meals and more (amazing) hot water bottles. It just so happened that there was a partial fuel canister in the free hiker box at Neel Gap. After a few shakes and some conversation, my hiking partner and I decided it would be enough to get us to Nantahala.

Score! Or so I thought…

That evening as I set up camp and made dinner I got out the “new” fuel canister. Turns out, it burned at high for the first thirty seconds and then died out to a very low simmer. I said a few expletives as feelings of sadness and frustration bubbled up. I switched back to the old fuel canister and finished making dinner. I went to bed wondering what to do about the situation.

Should I go into a town and get a new canister? That would take some time and require a hitch (which my partner and I had planned to avoid due to the pandemic). Maybe I should just cold soak all my meals once the old canister runs out? This option didn’t sound very good either. Would luke warm water for breakfasts and dinners be that bad?

Asking For Help

The next morning I was thinking of all of the options. One option stood out… asking another thru-hiker for help. A few of the folks that we were walking around the days prior were planning on heading into Hiawassee, GA to resupply that day. I wondered if they had a partially full canister that they would be willing to give away.

I’m not always a person who feels comfortable asking others for help. This may be because of my past experience working in outdoor education with a focus on self reliance. Or possibly my discomfort with feeling like I need help in general because of past thru-hikes, or maybe the problematic emphasis on independence in (colonial) American (and masculine) culture in general.

Anyways — I decided to ask and just see what happened.

Another hiking couple said that they had a small, partially full fuel can that they would be willing to give. I was so stoked and beyond grateful for their generosity. It was my lucky day. I walked away from that crew of other thru-hikers with so much gratitude.

Turns out, the fuel can they gave us got us all the way to Nantahala and ran out after the last pot of water came to a boil the morning we were headed into the NOC. What timing!

A Little Can Go A Long Way

After experiencing this first week there is no doubt in my mind that a long trail like the Appalachian Trail is hard for everyone. Hard in different ways. It may be the terrain for some, or the weather for others. Through the challenges I have witnessed many thru-hikers helping each other. A gifted fuel can is just one example. We are all on a journey of self discovery on trail, no matter how that looks — and just like other parts of life asking for and receiving support is part of it.

I am inspired by the generosity I’ve seen in others. I hope I can channel some of that when I’m off trail too. You never know when something you do will go as far as a little bit of fuel did for me. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the trail holds. After all, I am only one week in.

I am headed towards the Great Smoky Mountains next! Thanks for reading! Feel free to subscribe for posts along the way and follow my journey on Instagram.

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