A Brew with A Thru
This week, I had a couple beers with AT thru-hiker, Belcher. He was incredibly gracious and invited me over to talk shop, and offer some advice about this endeavor I’ve been so obsessed with. I gladly accepted, brought beer and likely overstayed my welcome, but I walked away with some seemingly brilliant pearls of wisdom.
On quitting the trail
There are days when I wanted to quit, like every fucking day.
Hiking the AT is a lot of suck. Cold weather, rain and hunger are all reasons people quit. The key to making it to Katahdin/Springer? Embrace the suck, and set rules for quitting.
- No quitting in a town
- No quitting while you’re hungry
- No quitting on an uphill
- No quitting on a day with bad weather
So you want to quit? Get back on the trail, find an overlook, warm up and have something to eat. Then you can bail out.
On Trail Magic
This shouldn’t have been as big a concern for me as it was, but I was (and am) worried about it. How difficult is it to find somewhere to stay? What about hitchhiking? Are there really things on the trail specifically for me? My answers weren’t exact. They weren’t even answers.
The trail is a living breathing creature. It will pick you up as often as it knocks you down. But it knows what you need. You will find the most amazing things on the trail the second you need them and not any sooner.
So there’s that. If you’re all about the spiritual side of things, this assurance works. If you’re me, this assurance is nothing less than terrifying.
On water, and its purification
In wilderness medicine, I teach people to use chemicals and a filter. Get out all the big stuff and the viruses too. A lot of hikers don’t purify. Personally, I use the least sketchy water sources I can find and a filter. Haven’t had a problem yet.
So a sawyer full size squeeze filter it is.
I’m not really into hiking with music.
“Dude, I swear you’ll wish you had them. ”
Hah-hah, we’ll see.
“When you’re having a rough day, and you will have rough days, nothing turns the mood around quite like hiking to some good tunes. It’s really a game-changer. Keeps your head straight. ”
I’ll have to throw the Skullcandys in my bag then! *laughing*
“Seriously. Do it. Today. Not kidding.”
Oh. Okay. Stop yelling. Please.
On purchasing gear
It’s news to me, but some companies LOVE thru-hikers and actually stand behind their gear. For example, Osprey packs will gladly fix or replace the pack that gets dragged behind a truck, eaten by a bear and lit on fire at your first major breakdown on the trail.
And better yet, most of these companies that stand behind their gear hang out at trail days, just to replace all the broken gear that hikers bring them. Researching a company’s warranty policy can save some time, money and headache.
The goal here is to make your fucking miles. This means being wary of each 10-minute break throughout the day. They add up quick. Devise a system to grab water and go. Time your breaks. Starting your day by immediately packing everything up, eating breakfast and being out of camp by 6 allows for some distance. Figure, you’ve got 2200 miles to hike. Might take some time. Get moving.
Maybe this is common sense for someone else, but it’s foreign to me.
You’re going to get wet. When you do, hike in the wet clothes and keep everything else dry.
Everything that you hike in will be soaked. Your socks, your base layer, your feet and even your rain jacket. Knowing this, it’s best practice to keep that set of clothes wet if you can’t dry them off, and preserve the dry camp clothes in your bag. Every morning, those wet clothes go right back on when you leave camp. If it’s raining, they’ll stay wet. If it’s sunny, they’ll dry out.
The rain jacket isn’t for keeping you dry, it’s for keeping you warm.
So that $300 rain jacket will serve the same purpose as the $60 one, which is even lighter. Cool. Saving money is cool.
In closing, I asked Belch for the two best pieces of advice he would give a prospective thru-hiker, like myself. He laughed, drank his beer and thought. He then offered the best pieces of advice I have yet to receive.
“Travel light, and keep walking.”
That’s it? That’s it. Such simplicity I almost couldn’t believe. There aren’t any magical tips and tricks to hiking the AT. It’s endurance, optimism, a touch of insanity and the ability to persevere. It’s not something that’s difficult to figure out, but actually something so simple that I almost missed it. Less STUFF and more WORK. Might be a great philosophy for life too. We’re getting deep in this blog post, but I can subscribe to that.
TO ALL CURRENT AND PAST THRU HIKERS: What can you add to this list? What are you hidden gems of advice for AT hopefuls? I wanna know! Email me at [email protected] or leave a comment!
Cover photo courtesy Flickr.com. All other photos courtesy the wonderful folks here at Appalachian Trials!
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