Ten Things I’ve Learned 30 Days into Hiking the AT

Here’s some things I’ve learned so far hiking the Appalachian Trail.  You may agree, you may not agree… but hopefully I can help someone out.

1: Slow down. It’s not a race.

All too often I noticed that people were trying to be the best… daily.  Who walked the most miles that day, who hiked the fastest, who ate the most burgers at Wendy’s. Why? No one really cares how much you ate or how many miles you did when you’re sitting there bragging about it.  It’s all cool stuff, but be humble.  Anyway, just enjoy the hike, stop making it a competition.  We’ve all got the same goal, and we’re sharing that together. How cool is that?

2: Listen to your body.

No matter how far you are hiking in a day, if your body is telling you to stop or slow down, you stop or slow down. Too often I watch and hear of people getting injured due to overexerting their bodies.  Your body is your temple, it’s here to house you and take care of you.  Listen to it and treat it with care.  If you don’t, you will eventually pay for it.  If you need a zero, take a zero.  If you need a week, take a week.  Do what you need to do to have your best hike.

3: Pull out your washboard.

Now, this may just be me, but I’ve had nothing but awful experiences with washing my clothes at hotels. OK, yeah, it’s only been a month and I’ve only stayed in three hotels, but three out of three laundry sessions were absurdly priced and two out of three didn’t get any dirt off my clothes.  One washer didn’t even drain.  At that point, I chose to wash my clothes by hand with a single packet detergent you can buy at any grocery store for like… a buck.  My clothes were the cleanest they had been, by far.  I’d go for the dollar wash over the $8 wash any day.  Now for hostels; they are built for the dirt and the grime.  These folks know what’s up and I promise that you’ll have a lovely pair of hiking clothes after a wash in one of these joints.

4: When by town, stop by town.

I’m not saying you need to stop in Boonsboro, MD, or hop on over to bum nowhere, Georgia, but unless you’re penny-pinching or just on a tight budget, get that town food. One thing I learned real quick is though it does cost a good chunk and, yeah, you typically have plenty of food in your bag to keep you going, stopping for a town burger is always worth it.  It’s such a morale booster and will get you going on that trail when you need it.  When I first came out here, I told myself I would rarely get food in town and would do my best to save money.  That quickly changed when I realized how much of a soul lifter it was.  When you know lunch that day is going to be a nice, juicy (veggie) burger and a cold beer, it really gets you going.  I’m just saying. You won’t regret it.

5: Trail magic; it’s there, I swear.

I got really down in the dumps when I realized how out of the bubble I was. I was a little late to the hiking game, thus trail magic seemed hard to come upon.  All I ever craved was a sandwich I didn’t have to make, an ice cold drink sitting in a cooler. All things I had heard about before coming out to the trail.  I started to think it was a hoax.  Quickly did I learn that trail magic wasn’t just food related, though highly appreciated. Aha.  Trail magic is everywhere; from the random guy heading into town and giving you a lift, to a hiker not wanting to carry six packets of crackers and handing you two.  It comes in so many forms and once you realize this, you realize how absolutely spoiled you are.  That’s trail magic.  Later, when I jumped ahead to Virginia and was a little before the bubble, I quickly got a taste of this all too famous food trail magic.  The kind where you’re repetitively inclining and declining these 1,000-plus elevations, sweating like it’s your job, sucking in humid air, and wishing you were back in school taking some physics two exam that was taken in a school with flat ground.  That’s all you want.  Flat.  Ground.  But then it’s all quickly over and you somehow find a lovely couple at a gap making hot dogs, handing out brownies and telling you to grab any cold beverage you’d like.  Ah, now we’re back.  That’s trail magic.  It’s waiting for you.

6: Let it out.

Guess what? You get to have any emotion that you want on the trail. Angry? Scream it out.  Sad? Cry it out.  Happy? Sing it out.  Literally, you will go through all of the emotions and you get to handle them however you want (OK, but like don’t get too crazy).  To be honest, this is one of my favorite things on the trail.  If you’re angry, all you can be angry at is yourself, so let it out, do what you have to do to release it.  Relax, sleep, eat, go find a gnarly hotel to perch up in, hike by yourself for the day.  This is your hike.  I was having a rough couple days the other week, and guess what? I cried.  My tent was flooding, Ziggy was moping, I left my tramily in Georgia, and of course couldn’t seem to make a new one, and on top of that I felt like I couldn’t talk it out with anyone.  It felt like everything was against me, and ya know what? I let it out because I could and no one will even question you because they get it.  Everyone has been there, has felt that, has felt defeated, and they got through it.  I took a step back, cuddled my pup, and then got off trail for a night.  It’s what I needed to get my mind back in place and it worked.

7: Stretchhhhhh.

Please stretch every moment you get. You won’t regret it.  Trust me.  That is all.

8: Hug that weekender.

Weekend hikers are heaven sent. You want a fire? Weekend hiker.  You want some yummy leftovers?  Weekend hiker.  You need toilet paper?  Weekend hiker.  What about your trash? Want it packed out?  Weekend hiker.  These people are the best.  I have met so many folks who talk bad about day hikers and weekend hikers and I have yet to figure out why.  A hiker is a hiker is a hiker.  We’re all out here to soak in nature; why are you hating?  They smell better than you and probably still have a job.  Be nice.  Moral of the story, they like to spoil thru-hikers half the time and tend to be great people.  We love them.

9: What bugs you the most?

Bugs.  Bugs that bug, bug me.  Debating carrying bug spray?  Don’t.  Just bring it.  I have never been a fan of bug spray.  I hate the chemicals and on top of that you can spray just your lower legs and it still somehow gets in your mouth.  Ask me a month ago, I would say heck no, not bringing any.  Ask me now, and I’m saying bring it if you don’t want a gnat swimming around on your eyeball.  I still never picked any up, but whenever someone offers, I don’t hesitate.  As it has warmed up, they have come to ruin your life.  I’m just saying, if you want to be able to sit and have a peaceful lunch without the worry of a pterodactyl-sized mosquito biting your arm, I’d pack out that extra weight.  There are also plenty of all natural substitutes. I approve!. Or just rock a gnarly makeshift mask.

10: And lastly, take care of your body.

Trekking poles make great leg rollers.

Tennis balls make great massagers.  Knot in your back? Tennis ball.  Sore arch? Tennis ball.

Icy creeks are great for inflammation.  At the end of the day, if you’re near a cold body of water, take advantage and take off your shoes.  Follow the downstream rule (this is when you go downstream of where hikers are filtering their water so it stays relatively clean for them)  No one wants to filter sweaty hiker feet water.

Logs make for great calf-stretching posts.  Lift those legs.

I hope that these ten things that I learned will help you out if you’re new to this game.  Enjoy every single moment of this journey and happy hiking.

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Comments 14

  • Thunder : Jul 3rd

    The learning curve is steep, but you’ve captured the essence of it! HYOH can also be summed up, learn your own hike! My hike is unique. . . just like yours!
    Happy trails!

  • Josh Johnson : Jul 3rd

    “A hiker is a hiker is a hiker” … yes! And you’re totally right about all the help they can give.

  • Tammy & Eugene (Biscuit & Gravy) : Jul 4th

    You are so right on all of the above. We learned after 2 section hikes on the AT to slow down. We thought we had to get in as many miles as possible. Pushing your body too far will only make you lose more miles in the end from injuries. Hike your own hike!

  • Capt. Norm : Jul 4th

    What a wonderful share! Right on the mark with all 10 points (I gave up the weight of a camp stove and fuel for bug spray!). Great pics…although Ziggy looks pissed in the one! Happy Hiking and again, great advice!

  • Bchlvr : Jul 4th

    Keep it up, Sarah! You’ve got the right ideas and attitude.

  • John Van Etten : Jul 4th

    great points!

  • Vince Piquet : Jul 4th

    I would add under “taking care of your body, wash off at the end of every day. Salt and sweat are massive irritants. Fair winds and following seas.
    Vince aka The Dude, SOBO, ’17/’18

  • Bob (no trail name yet!) : Jul 4th

    GREAT tips! I am reading all I can to prepare for my first hike on the AT this week and am totally stoked!

  • Larry Constantino : Jul 5th

    Mostly spot on! Though only a cool/colder weather section hiker and only reaching mm199 going NB so far, haven’t had any problems with bugs at all.

  • Thomas “ TC “ : Jul 5th

    Love your insight and more so your state of mind …..

  • Chris : Jul 5th

    Great post. Enjoy UNCC, my sister in law goes there.

  • Allen Weigand : Jul 5th

    I really loved your post. Your dog pictures made laugh. What a great companion. Happy trails!

  • Ronnie : Jul 6th

    Fellow Charlottean here. I enjoyed the post Sarah. I’ve always wanted to hike the AT, but have only day hiked a small portion. Hope your trek goes well.

  • Cheryl : Jul 8th

    I agree totally! As a section hiker , we love meeting and helping out thru hikers. And you should meet my son , he’s in the same place as you sound, biology major and undecided about his destiny. But y’all will figure it out. Just be happy 😃 CC


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