A day on the Appalachian Trail

The best mornings are when I wake up in my tent after a night without my rain fly. I can see birds fly in the canopied trees above my sleeping spot and small mammals making their way up and down the surrounding tree trunks. Better, still, is when there is a good view to the mountains if I sit up and look out.

My days have a loose routine that revolves around three things: eating, getting water and sleeping comfortably. It’s enough structure for comfort and enough freedom for spontaneity.

Stretching comes first. Roll hips one way, shoulders another and then arms reach overhead while toes flex. Roll onto my back, then onto my stomach again to close my eyes and think about emerging from my sleeping bag – a 45-degree Marmot bag provided for me by the generosity of my Grandpa Jack. I think about how my body feels and about what it might have to do that day. It’s either 6:30 or 7:15 in the morning, but never earlier. Sometimes it’s later.

Sit up and deflate the sleeping pad. There’s no way to sleep comfortably again now. My backpack – a 55-liter Granite Gear pack – is tucked inside of an old Gregory rain cover just outside of my tent in the vestibule, which I call my “foyer.” My shoes are next to my pack. I tuck my sleeping bag and pad, clothes, book, camera and pots into my pack after getting dressed, and then put my socks and shoes on. I take my tent down and tuck it, loose, into my pack.

I eat breakfast on a rock or flat sitting space and look at how far I might walk that day on Guthook – a trail app that tells you mileage, water sources, shelters, towns and a whole lot more. Breakfast was previously a package of PopTarts in a flavor that shouldn’t be considered a viable option for pastries: hot fudge, chocolate fudge, s’mores. In the cooler mountain weather I’ve switched to bagels and cream cheese or oatmeal and chia seeds.

Walking comes next. Sometimes I start the morning listening to music. Usually, I listen to the birds. When I hear the one bird call I know, I whistle back and hope to have some sort of conversation with nature. Sometimes it works.

If I haven’t already retrieved water from my campsite, I filter some with my Katadyn water filter at the closest stream before continuing my walk. My mind wanders, or is blank and listening. Going up steep inclines I think, “step, step, step, step,” while my feet move to distract myself from the fact that I am going up a large mountain and that my legs are likely burning. I feel it in the front of my thighs and in my calves (the trail is actually a 2,000 mile StairMaster disguised as a nature walk).

I stop at every view, unless the weather is miserable. Sometimes I take frequent, short breaks every three-to-five miles. Sometimes I go for seven or eight miles and then stop for a long lunch when I feel it’s time. Usually, I’ll take my shoes off at least once in the day. If there’s a body of water to swim in, I make sure to submerge myself completely after dropping my pack, and then have a snack.

The end of walking comes at around 20 miles. I can normally walk about 10 miles before noon, and then another 10 following, but it varies based on my mood, my body, the terrain and the weather.

Once, I hiked 13 miles before 11 in the morning. Another time, it took eight hours to trudge through 12 miles. I slept very well both nights.

My walking ends at either a shelter or reasonable tent site. If it’s raining hard I like to sleep in the trail shelters, which are usually wooden structures with three walls and an open floor plan. Most other times I set up my one-person REI Passage One tent.

I make dinner – Knorr rice sides, mac and cheese, ramen, mashed potatoes with bacon bits or stuffing with packet chicken – and sit with myself or whoever is around. I recently hit a bubble of southbounders and have been constantly surrounded by people at the shelters. The company tends to be nice if I’ve been hiking alone in the day. If I tent in a stealth site, I’m likely alone.

Before hanging my food bag in a tree with paracord (so bears don’t eat my food) I clean out my pots and get water. I crawl into my tent, which was set up completely before dinner, and read or journal or sketch. My eyes droop and then it’s time to sleep. It’s around 9:30 or 10 at night. I turn off my headlamp, nestle my head into the clothes bag I use as a pillow and drift off to the sound of wind through the trees.

Wake up and repeat.

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Comments 1

  • G'ma maxine : Jul 31st

    I loved this article. It sounds very familiar except I only walked a 20 mile day once ever. And of course, we did not have the app thing but we did have Wingfoot’s Hiker’s Guide. I used to count when I was exhausted, remembering from somewhere deep in the recesses of my brain that 5280 feet = 1 mile. Keep on, dear Clara. You are amazing.

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