5 Lessons From My First Week On Trail

As I drifted off to sleep during my first night on trail, I was so tired from the approach trail that I assumed my cousin would have to shake me awake in the morning.

I was very wrong.

Sleeping on trail was not quite how I expected it would be. In fact, there was a lot of learning to be had during my first stint in the woods.

Here are just some of the lessons I learned during the first week of my NOBO thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.

My unconscious mind thinks there’s at least 37 bears in this image.

1. Nighttime in the woods can be unnerving.

First and foremost, sleeping outside was rough the first week.

Before I set out on my thru-hike I had only camped in the woods once. I knew there would be a learning curve to camping on the AT. But one of my reasons to do this hike was to get out of my comfort zone, so camping is a must.

After a week of hiking under my belt, I feel that my sleep system was mostly dialed. What disrupts my sleep the most is the noise.

I have diagnosed myself with IBF (irrational bear fear). In short, any noise I hear after nightfall is a bear. At least, that’s how my brain processes it.

In the daylight, I know these things aren’t actually bears. But that little part of our brain that kept our ape ancestors from becoming prey is not the best at telling the difference between wind and bears when it’s dark.

Another camper walking to the privy?

Nope, it’s a bear.

Wind knocks some leaves around?

That’s a bear.

A mouse runs across my ground cloth?

Also, bear.

Owls hooting in the trees?

Believe it or not, flying bears.

Anytime I hear noise at night, my body shakes awake so I can fend off the onslaught of imaginary predators. Then I have to spend time convincing my internal alarm system we are not under siege.

That said, I’ve developed a few means of putting my mind at ease.

Camping at popular sites

There is a feeling of safety in numbers. It’s also easier to convince myself that noises are coming from other campers and not an ursine marauder.

Knowing the facts

I know the odds of a bear attack are incredibly low. From as much as I’ve heard and researched, they really just want your food. I’m told if you practice good etiquette about cooking and storing your food away from your campsite, there shouldn’t be a reason for a bear to come near you. They just want the piñatas full of Clif bars that people keep leaving for them.

Ear plugs

I was told ear plugs were good at blocking out snoring but they’ve proven effective at canceling most noise. I was initially hesitant about turning my hearing off at night in case of emergency, but I find they strike the right balance between hearing everything and hearing nothing.

Preacher’s Rock

2. A one-person tent doesn’t mean one comfortable person.

I was so enamored with my Durston X-Mid 1 during my shakedown hikes. Great weight. Incredibly clever use of space. There is just one issue that I couldn’t grasp until I spent consecutive five nights in it.

I’m too big for a one person tent.

As mentioned in previous posts, I’m 6′ 1″ and currently 230 lbs. I just fit in my current tent. Throw in a quilt and a sleeping bag that also just fit and it gets a little claustrophobic. Not to mention that because I’m overfilling the interior of the tent, stuff starts touching the walls and gets wet off of condensation.

These are all issues that I could have planned around. The tent itself is great. If I had thought ahead I would have gotten a two person Durston tent. Alas, I did not have the foresight and I’m told the tents are out of stock.

I visited an outfitter (Trailful) in Hiawassee and picked up the new Nemo Hornet Osmo. It certainly shot a hole in my first month budget but the additional space is already proving to be worth the expense.

3. Meeting New People Takes Energy

I get hit with post-hike brain fog (what I call “poo-brain”) whenever I get into camp. I think my brain knows that camp means we don’t have to worry about tripping on roots anymore and it puts itself into energy conservation mode.

This makes it easy to fall asleep but not so easy to hold up a conversation. It seems every night that folks gather around a picnic table to cook and chat about their day and then there is me on a log trying to remember which end of the spoon goes in the peanut butter.

What’s nice is that most people are friendly and understanding out here. Even though I feel like I’m responding in grunts and incomplete sentences, it seems to be enough.

This is all to say that if you know me from the trail and I seem aloof after 1pm, it’s not you. I just used all my brain juice staying upright for the first 4-6 hours that day.

Sunrise halfway from Tesnatee Gap to Hogpen Gap.

4. You don’t have to carry water at all times.

If there are enough water sources throughout your day, you don’t need to carry water. Most days I see what FarOut (my map app) lists for water sources and check the comments on the app to make sure any listed water sources aren’t currently dry.

If there are several good sources, I don’t bother carrying water with me. That’s extra weight you don’t want to haul up hills if you don’t have to. When I get to a water source I’ll drink my fill and hike to the next source on the trail.

Of course, there are stretches that will require water carries. I’m just pleased with how little I’ve encountered dry sections.

5. I really really really love hiking.

The nights are slowly getting better for me but the days…oh the days. Once I get packed up and moving, I remember why I dreamed of this trip.

Drinking (filtered) water right out of a stream.

Observing the changes in foliage as you ascend and descend peaks.

Stopping to catch your breath and seeing the mountain you summited yesterday.

Looking ahead at the mountains to come.

Catching up with other hikers at a watering hole.

Setting up your tent immediately when you get to camp while you still have the energy to do it.

The list goes on.

When you compare the pros and cons, the cons barely amount to anything. I’ll endure any number of fictional bears and soggy socks to wake up out here everyday.

Thank you for taking the time to read this! I hope you found it interesting or got at least a chuckle out of it. Remember that you don’t need fancy gear or thousand mile trails to enjoy the outdoors. Any trail is a good excuse to get outside.

Take a hike!

David “Good Soup”

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Comments 18

  • Jenny : Mar 3rd

    Nice summary of your first week Good Soup! And how lucky are you to be doing something you love – hiking!! I start in 3 1/2 weeks!!

    • David Firari : Mar 3rd

      Thanks for leaving a comment, Jenny! Best of luck on your upcoming hike. If we happen to cross paths, don’t hesitate to say hi!

  • Papa Dhmp : Mar 3rd

    Nice writing Good Soup! Thanks for taking the time to document your journey. You’ll look back on these posts and be thankful you did. I, too switched out to a larger tent after several shakedowns, for the same reasons. Good job on the water carrying. I usually didn’t carry very much water either, except for a few sections. Good luck; we’re all rooting for ya!
    Class of 2022

    • David Firari : Mar 4th

      Glad I’m not the only one who upgraded my tent! Happy share my story. I certainly read plenty of posts on The Trek, so I wanted to make sure I made my contribution.

      Thanks for the well wishes!

  • YeeHa : Mar 3rd

    Loved this post, Good Soup. Thanks to you, “IBF” and “poo-brain” are now in my vocabulary! And all of your images match your deft writing – especially the “leaf selfie.” We hope to meet you at the NOBO 1/3 waypoint in Troutville, VA – BeeChHill B&B/Hostel. Stop by to say “howdy,” whether you stay overnight or not. We’re just a 2-minute walk from the Trail. And we have great well water! YeeHa

    • David Firari : Mar 4th

      Hi Yeeha! Glad I could expand your vocab, haha! I’ll try to swing by and say hi! That well water is tempting.

  • Kara Wise : Mar 4th

    I can attest to the brain fog! In 2018 I did a cross country bicycling trip, and for a solid 1000 miles I felt like I was rubbing 2 brain cells together. I literally have a drawing in my journal from that trip with 2 brain cells dancing around. Lol best of luck! I’ll be starting NOBO in a week!

    • David Firari : Mar 6th

      Lol! Thanks for that funny visual. Sometimes I’m not sure I have a full two brain cells out here. Best of luck on your hike!

  • Tony Cobb : Mar 5th

    Thanks for the often humor, I visualize perfectly what you are explaining. I have always wanted to do the entire hike but have only managed sections of Georgia, Tenn and NC. Now I’m almost 74 and feel it’s a distant dream. Still do the short 5 mile hikes to remote areas in NC but afraid that’s my limit. Look forward to following your journey and the pics. Stay upbeat, there will be down days. One foot in front of the other my man. 👍

    • David Firari : Mar 6th

      Thanks, Tony! I appreciate you sharing your story. Hope you’ll be able to check some more sections of your list! Be well and thanks for the kind words.

  • Ken : Mar 5th

    Hey, Just came upon your article tonight. The Comment about Seeing 37 bears in the picture made me laugh out loud. I’ve done a lot of car camping and I’ll be honest I do feel safer sleeping in my car. Just signed up to The Trek with my email so I can read some more of your upcoming articles. Be safe and Good luck!

    • David Firari : Mar 6th

      Hi Ken! Glad to hear I gave ya a chuckle. I would certainly take a car door over a tent wall some of these nights for peace of mind, but that’s just trail life.

      Thanks for subscribing! I hope you’ll find my future posts entertaining.

  • Pinball : Mar 6th

    Beary fun update.
    Trailful is a great store, good ppl.

    Your “con’s of hiking” list will grow a little more formidable eventually ^_^ (bugs, dried water sources, blisters) … good thing (excluding actual medical problem) the “pro’s” will always win.

    • David Firari : Mar 6th

      “Beary” ha!

      Yeah, I hear the little annoyances add up as you go. Just gonna try and be mindful of why I’m put here and push past the blisters and bugs.

      Like you said, the “pros” always win.

  • Anthony Reyes : Mar 8th

    I have wanted to hike the AT for some time. Right now I will live vicariously through your adventures! I look forward to hearing about more of your journey.
    You sir, are living the dream!
    Be safe!

    • David Firari : Mar 9th

      Hey Anthony! Glad you enjoyed the post! Keep the dream alive. I hope to read about your AT story someday. Happy trails!

  • Abbigale Evans : Mar 10th

    Hey David!! This made me laugh out loud, glad you’re having fun out there. I relate strongly to your bear phobias — I’ve come to find a deer walking through the woods also sounds a lot like a person (especially when I thought I was solo camping! Lmao.) thanks for the great read! Maybe we’ll swing by each other at some point! Happy trails

    • David Firari : Mar 12th

      Hey there! Hope to see ya out there! Someone advised me that deer don’t have headlamps. That’s how I discern between them and hikers looking for the privy. Happy trails!


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