From a Fellow Hiker, My Two Cents As 2018 Hikers Head Out
At this time last year, I was anticipating the biggest adventure of my life (so far) with an incredible level of panic. It’s safe and accurate to say that I was more terrified than excited.
It was a whole lot of unknown. I had only backpacked once before, and that was only a three-to-five-day trip and my dad was with me. One can read all of the advice from countless sources, but until you are out there on your own, you really don’t know what you’re into.
As the 2018 crew begins to head out to the trail, here I am to add my two cents to the plethora of existing tips and tricks.
So to all of you 2018 hikers out there, preparing to embark on your hikes, I wish you the very best. Have the time of your life out there. Below are just a few bits of… something. Advice? Tips? Things that worked for me? Things I wish I had done better? All of the above? Yeah, that one.
This is by no means all-encompassing or thorough; it’s just what my brain decided to spit out when I began to think, “Hmm, what would I tell someone getting ready to hike the trail?” These are things I did not think about before hitting the trail, but that I realized once I was putting in miles.
Keep your shoes on. After hiking for most of the day, you get into camp and all you want to do (besides eat, that is) is take your sweaty, stinky boots or shoes off, and free your feet. I get it. I felt the same way. But sometimes, that water source is a little ways away and sometimes it’s down a steep, rocky hill. It would be a shame to injure yourself while hiking down a mountain in your Crocs to get water. I don’t know about your camp shoes, but my Crocs had zero tread. I kept my boots on, fetched my water for the night, and then removed my nasty footwear.
Apps before dinner. Remember, when you get into camp, you’re probably going to want to eat. A lot. But you also have to keep in mind that you have this much food and this many days until resupply. I realized late in my hike that it was great to have a rather large bag of trail mix or granola that I could scarf down handfuls of when I got into camp without having to worry about how much of it I ate. When I pulled into camp after a long day of hiking, I would sit down for a few minutes before unpacking and rest and eat before dinner. I felt like I could eat as much of this as I felt like because it wasn’t part of my meal plan. Replenishing calories, that’s what mattered.
Respect Southern Maine. Everyone will talk about the White Mountains in New Hampshire. You’ve probably already heard a lot about this particularly challenging (and gorgeous) section of trail. But you may or may not hear many people talk about Southern Maine. Be mentally prepared for this section as well. I made it through the Whites and then someone burst my triumphant bubble with the news that Southern Maine is the hardest part of the trail. Of course, as you will discover, everyone has their own opinion and what challenges someone else may not challenge you, but rugged Maine is not to be taken lightly. I loved Maine and made it through the rough parts, and you can, too. Just be warned. New Hampshire has its Whites, and then Maine said, “Watch this.”
Everyone has different opinions about gear, about the trail and how to hike it. But I have heard a great many people agree on ideas like the ones listed below. Mostly, I feel like these have to do with enjoying the journey and living in the moment.
Don’t rush! Take time to check out the blue blazes, talk with passing hikers, and do spontaneous things. I was really bad at this one most of the time, but I have resolved to be better at it the second time around. I was too focused on putting my miles in and getting into camp, which led me to skip blue blazes or views that weren’t directly on the trail. It may be hard sometimes, but put smiles over miles!
Listen to your body. This can be hard — incredibly hard if it means you have to discontinue the thru-hike that you’ve been dreaming of for months and months. I was heartbroken when I had to make a decision like this, and I still am not 100 percent over it. I can see good coming from it: I was burned-out when I got to Maine and every day in Maine was hard. Like I said before, I was pretty focused on just putting the miles in. With time off due to injury, I’ve reflected a lot on how I can enjoy the trail more when I get back out there. I can see good coming from the time off, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to have a continuous thru-hike. Just remember: The trail will be there waiting for you. And 2,190 miles is 2,190 miles, however you end up hiking it.
Embrace the trail community. You will meet fascinating people. And you will remember them once your time on the trail is finished. You will still feel like you were and are part of something unbelievable, something bigger than yourself, a super-cool club that the outside world doesn’t always understand. It warms my heart and soul to remember the time a guy named Last Minute invited me to eat lunch with him on a fallen log on the side of the trail, and to recall the night I spent at Abol Bridge Campground, anticipating Katahdin in all its glory with fellow hikers. The memories you share with others will stay with you.
Respect the trail, and the trail community, too. Especially in town and at hostels. Help make sure these havens stay open for hikers by being courteous and responsible. Pass it on. And Leave No Trace.
I’ll be joining y’all in the fall to finish up the trail for myself, and am pleased to say that I am more excited than terrified this time.
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