27 Days Out: The last time I’ll see ________ for a while
Miles Hiked: 0.0 Miles Remaining: 2189.2
Hiking the trail will necessitate change.
Earlier I said that my thru-hike start date had seemed further away than ever as the last twelve months passed by. This isn’t the case anymore – in fact it’s quite the opposite. All of a sudden, everything I do feels like a scramble to fit something in before I leave. This makes these snowstorms we’ve been having lately both a blessing and a curse, because it’s forcing me to slow down and take a deep breath for a minute.
I keep making and remaking these checklists of things I have to take care of before I leave – buying more gear, filling out the FAFSA, more school interviews, finding an apartment, packing for the move when I get back, cooking for my maildrops, visiting family… the list adds up quickly. Often I find that I get so overwhelmed that very little actually gets accomplished. I digress away to video games or re-reading The Stand (probably going to be the first book I read while I’m hiking, but more on that later) or meticulously organizing my filing cabinet – typical distraction material.
We got close to a foot of snow today, starting very early in the morning and continuing into the early evening. I had spent the past weekend at my girlfriend’s place in Maine (she goes to medical school up there) and was able to enjoy the Superbowl but the storm forced me to drive from 11:00pm-3:30am in order to get back to Connecticut before the craziness started. Aside from the obvious fatigue issues it was actually a really nice drive, once I got used to going 35mph on the highway with the snow severely restricting my vision. It gave me a lot of time to think, however, and I started making one of those “this is the last time I’ll _______ for a while” lists. It helps me stay present and appreciate what I have, and what I’ll be leaving for a little while.
By the end of my drive home last night, I came to the conclusion that I’m never going to be able to satisfy the urge to get everything done before I leave. It’s just part of my persona – accomplish one task and another will seemingly materialize out of nowhere and instantly demand it’s own completion.
And suddenly, I felt much better.
Give me your worst, nerves.
So I wrote the first part of this post (everything above this line) two days ago, while I was running around frantic like a decapitated chicken. It’s strange how much my perception of my own preparedness can vary. On any given day I can feel super confident or massively overwhelmed, depending on conditions like how my blood sugar is or how much laundry I have to do. Sometimes I’ll do a total 180 – two days ago I felt doomed, and at this point I feel totally fine. I was going to write about how my anxiety about the trail was driving me mad, but since that’s dissipated, I figure I’ll touch on the other thought I have running around in my head:
Hiking the Appalachian Trail necessitates a huge lifestyle change, and I have a long way to go before I’ll be comfortable in it.
Seriously – I can be really, really lazy sometimes.
During the storm I legitimately concluded that braving the elements to get to my car in my driveway to grab my water bottle was too much work. Seriously, I’m about to hike up most of the east coast… but walking a few feet outside in the snow is too much work. So maybe this is an unrepresentative example (I can be lazy but seriously I’m not usually this lazy), but at least it’ll be a memory I can look back and laugh at as I progress north. Like I said before, transitioning from a quasi-sedimentary lifestyle to a nomadic one is going to be pretty drastic. Consider a few of the following factors:
- The daily caloric intake of a hiker will be much higher than that of the average individual, a necessity due to the constant energy expenditure and greatly increased metabolic rate. Right now I consume between 2,000 and 2,500 calories a day. By the time my metabolism has adapted to hiking 15-20 miles a day I will likely be requiring between 5,000 and 6,000 calories a day. These amounts can be difficult to attain without having to rely partially on high calorie, low nutrient sustenance like junk food, candy, and processed and bleached carbohydrates. I’ll be writing a lot more about the food I’ll be eating later, but for now it should be enough to say that eating healthy while consuming 5,000 – 6,000 calories takes significant forethought to accomplish.
- Availability of water can completely alter the way a day will go. Water sources on the Appalachian Trail are not like the trusty sink back home – they can come and go depending on the level of recent precipitation, local erosion, and map accuracy (that’s not really the water sources fault, but eh). The difficulty for the long distance hiker is not potability – we come prepared with charcoal based water filters, iodine tablets, and Ultraviolet Pen Lights among other methods – but accessibility. In some areas, notably Pennsylvania, many shelters are located half a mile or more off the trail to be close to the nearest water source. There’s also the weight issue too. Sure, you could stock up with five liters to get you through an entire day and not have to worry about finding more water until nightfall, but five liters of water can add a lot of weight. It’s a delicate balance.
- Hours of operation mean a lot more when you NEED to make it in time. This is most commonly associated with postal offices, as many hikers (including myself) will be sending their mail-drops to these locations for future pickup. The problem here is that Thru-Hiking does not always revolve around the 9-5 schedule. We can’t just get in a car and drive to get our package. Making a mail drop pickup in time (God forbid it’s not on a Saturday) means putting in miles at double time to not miss the cutoff. It’s no longer an issue of time management, but energy and attitude management as well. When you drive around on errands, all that is needed is a little gasoline in the tank. Out on the Appalachian Trail, we run off of our own energy, and we have to carry all of that on our back as we move along. Like I said – it can get complicated.
- You can’t (or shouldn’t) go inside on every single rainy day. One of the main objectives of the Thru-Hiker is to, of course, hike the Appalachian Trail in its entirety, and achieving this means hiking through fair and foul weather days. There will certainly be a few dozen “zero-days” along the trail (a day where zero miles are accrued, more on that later), but those come from a number of reasons in addition to just foul weather. In order to finish on time, days at a time will be spent hiking through overcast, rain, wind and storms. It’s just a part of life out there.
Comparisons like these are aplenty out on the trail, and I’ll be sure to write them down as I think of. One of the changes I am most excited for is the total control that you have over your schedule. You can stay up all night or go to bed at 7:00pm; you can sleep in until 10:00am or wake up before the sun to hike. Unfortunately though, this is a part of trail life, and I am not there yet. In other words, I have work early in the morning, so as John Muir definitely never said – “My pillow is calling, and I must go.”
This is going to be a fun six months.
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