700 Miles: A Third Of The Way Q&A
2016 Flip Flop: SNP to ME/SNP to GA
And then I hiked 700 miles. One of the things that has been hard about writing up these hundred mile summaries is how fast the time passes. And how much I forget. The days slide into one another. And to be honest, the trail looks more or less the same when you are constantly looking down. Unless there are big piles o’rocks.
While the first hundred miles seemed to take a long time to hit, these last few series of hundred mile milestones seem to come upon me much quicker. So much so that I get behind in my writing.
I’m pretty sure that I didn’t actually finish Connecticut as of my 600 mile report, but no matter. What I do know is that over the last hundred miles the pine forests are making a regular appearance. You know. Like the ones I first encountered back in Pennsylvania when I originally liked that state. I swam in the pools of Sages Ravine just before reaching the Massachusetts state line, scaled Race Mountain and Mt. Everett and spent a long weekend visiting friends in North Adams, MA. I did some slack packing and even had the time to visit Mass MOCA after foregoing the opportunity to visit NYC last week while near Pawling. I power washed my backpack, got to wear my friend’s clothes, particularly—a coveted Sahalie skort—and enjoyed wonderful non-ramen based meals accompanied by glasses of red wine.
Other than these highlights, I’ve been fielding a few questions over the weeks that sums up my first third of the trail.
How bad have the bugs been?
Thus far, not bad. But that could just be my fortunate lack of appeal to bugs in general. I’ve rarely applied repellent. One notable exception: Shaker Tentsite just before reaching Tyingham, MA. I arrived late, around 7:45 p.m. All seven tents and/or hammocks were quiet because everyone was tucked inside bug netting escaping non-consensual blood donations. I donned all my rain gear and the head net I had only been carrying to date. The tent site was at the location of a former Shaker settlement. The moss-covered foundation of a barn wall was still evident. I have no idea why the Shakers chose this site. Or how they survived the mosquito pestilence.
In regards to the little Lyme disease toting buggers, I’ve only found two ticks to date: one large wood tick and one small nymph or deer tick. My feet are my main complaint, a symptom not associated with Lyme.
And the weather?
Remarkably gorgeous. Sunny days. Breezes that keep away voracious bugs. For the most part, when it has rained, it’s been at night. I missed the two week-long run of rain here in the trail when I was back home for the birth of my new grandson. I’m sure I’ll be paying for this stretch of fine weather somewhere down the line.
How is all your pre-made food working out?
When the food drop box arrives on time and undamaged it has worked out great. My dinners cook up easily and are far from boring. I’m glad I went this route even though it required a lot of planning. But then again, logistics do tend to run within my family bloodlines.
What about that infamous hiker hunger?
I’ve been on the trail for more than 60 days and I have yet to feel overly ravenous. I haven’t eaten boxes of donuts or craved honeybuns, sour patch kid candy or entire pizzas. I think this could be due in part to my pre-made food that includes dried beans and other complex carbohydrates. It also could be because, despite all the calories being burned, I’m still far from being underweight–or undernourished. On the other hand, I do eat more Snicker bars than ever before–including clandestine Halloween candy skimming.
How are your feet doing? Other parts of your body?
The plantar fasciitis I experienced while hiking through Pennsylvania is mostly gone. I no longer take Ibuprofen for inflammation, but I do keep icing my foot whenever I can. I have had a few blisters—more so after 600 miles than at the beginning. My toes will occasionally hurt after long mileage days. Everything else is holding up. I take care not to jolt my knees descending boulder fields and rock ledges. I’m the old crone using her trekking poles as canes.
Do you see many people on the trail?
Generally speaking, I tend to hike alone during the day. Occasionally I spend an afternoon or entire day hiking and talking with another hiker or two. I almost always plan on camping or staying at a shelter or tenting area where this is water and a privy, as do many other hikers. That’s when I see the most people–well that and on weekends when day hikers and boys scout troops are out in droves.
During the day I may get passed up by faster Northbound hikers (NOBOs) and the occasional southbound section hiker. I’ve never had a day pass where I haven’t seen anyone. I’m also part of a small flip flop bubble—hikers who have started out a point other than Springer Mountain, Georgia. I’ve repeatedly leapfrogged with a few of them as we are traveling at a slightly slower pace than the NOBOs who are increasingly hell-bent on getting to Katahdin.
Are you happy with your gear and clothing choices?
I’ve been happy with most everything I decided to replace or use. You can see my full gear list here. Top items that I had upgraded include my pack (size, functionality and weight) and stove (piezo auto starter and weight). The only things I sent home thus far have been full length gaiters I had packed as part of my overall rainwear and switching out base layers as the weather warmed up. My umbrella and therm-o-rest z-seat are two luxury items that I rarely use but are extremely light and useful when they are needed.
With the exception of my Purple Rain hiking skirt and its perfectly placed pockets, everything I wear is made of merino wool. Some days, though, I feel like I’m stuck wearing a prison uniform, especially when I have to put in the time and make the miles. On one hand wearing the same clothes day after day—even when perfectly clean—has become surprisingly boring. On the other hand, you never waste any time deciding what to don. On the upside, none of my wool clothing smells bad at all. Wish I could say the same about my sweat-soaked backpack.
Anything new you’ve learned so far?
Surprising, for all the time I’m spending in nature, my greatest lesson has been how to better use my iPhone. I now can preserve my phone battery a whole lot longer, am figuring out the benefits of the cloud and am using my phone more for podcasts and audio books—things I hadn’t previously needed. My phone is a link to home, hostels reservations and at times, my sanity.
Are you having fun?
Cive, a younger woman I met while staying at the Bearded Woods Hostel, posed this question to me a few weeks ago in another way: “Isn’t the trail great?” I offered a complicated treatise in what I’m sure she expected to be a simple yes or no answer. Bottom line is a qualified yes.
I appreciate the opportunity to be able to attempt this feat. I am thankful for my health and the physical capability to do this. I love eating and drinking my way across all these state lines by foot. I love the feeling of being self-sufficient (even though all the pre-planning and coordination makes that somewhat moot). I love being alone in the woods in the day and meeting up with people at night.
At times, though, I do feel like the trail is setting me up for failure. The terrain can be difficult, if not decidedly perilous. Faces are constantly changing as are your social networks. And then there is the egocentricity of removing yourself from your family for an extended period of time—as in my situation. I’m not on the trail to either escape or find myself.
On some of the more physically-challenging days, I do question why I am doing this. But the next day brings a new view, an unexpected encounter and more accumulated miles under my feet. As I finally and happily concluded to Cive, “I continue to implement the plan!”
And as soon as this hike is over—and my final dress size is better understood—I will be ordering that new Sahalie skort.
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