Eight Lessons (Re)Learned After Ten Days On The Trail

Lesson 1 -Know How To Use Your Gear Before Leaving Home

This lesson seems obvious, but it is well worth repeating. I have used a Garcia bear canister in the past where required, such as in the Adirondacks and on the John Muir Trail. This year, I purchased a Bare Boxer, which is light weight and small. At home, I opened and closed the three locks multiple times. I thought I had the locking mechanism down.

My first night on the trail, I got two of the locks opened, but couldn’t get the third. I had no idea what I did to open the two and why I couldn’t open the third. I was frustrated and hungry. No one else had a bear canister;  and no one offered advice.

Trying to unlock the lid, I was using the larger screw driver on my Swiss Army knife. In desperation, I used a knife blade and promptly cut myself. Finally, I used the smaller screw driver. Presto! It worked. The next morning, I was still uncertain about which way to turn the mechanisms to unlock, but I soon was able to open and close the canister with no difficulty.

One of my early hiking friends did not know how to use her pocket rocket stove. She had been cold soaking all her food.

In her first attempt to use the stove,  she didn’t place it and the pot in a stable place. When the meal came to a boil, the pot tipped over and everything spilled out. Later she unscrewed the stove from the fuel canister slowly, causing a lot of liquid fuel to escape. I hope she now has the hang of it and is preparing hot meals and beverages.

Lesson 2 – Tighten The Guy Lines Before Going To Bed

The first night, I set up my Zpack Duplex with a good pitch. But I didn’t re-check the guy lines, which hold the tent taut.

It rained that night. Although I didn’t get wet, in the morning I realized I had taken in some water and that the guy lines were loose.? Check the pitch and guy lines before bed.

Lesson 3 – Take Good Care Of Your Feet

I was unable to find a trail runner that provided my feet and legs with the support and comfort I needed. So I am hiking in Keen Voyager shoes, which model I wore last August while backpacking.

I typically take a two to three week backpacking trip in August, after my feet have had several months to toughen up. It didn’t occur to me just how tender my feet would be this early in the season.

I have learned over the years that my feet sweat while hiking. To prevent blisters, I typically take off my boots and socks at rest breaks. I have even changed  into dry socks at times.

Since this trip began, I have soaked my feet in streams twice and perhaps aired out my feet another time or two. I also used moleskin and second skin (blister band aids)  a few times.   Unfortunately,  I developed blisters on the pads of my baby toes and  on the sides of my big toes. Ouch!

The past few days, I have paid serious attention to my feet. I have had to drain blisters multiple times. Since I am spending a few nights indoors (that’s  another lesson), I have been able to soak my feet in Epsom  salt, which is very helpful.

Over the  years, I have gone from wearing Smartwool socks to Darn Tough to Fitts. Yesterday I tried injinji, which worked well, as they are toe socks. Despite my preference for Fitts, am mailing them home and hiking in injinji from now on.

Lesson 4 – Carry Less Water

For many years, I drank out of a Camelback or similar water reservoir. Last year, I returned to using bottles, which hold 650 ml. I also have a one liter Be Free Katydn filter and a two liter bladder, which I like to fill up when getting to camp. This way, I don’t have to return to the water source, which is sometimes 1/4  mile  away. And  I have plenty of water for dinner, breakfast, and to fill my water bottles for the next day.

However, I have been hiking with the two water bottles and at least another liter of water. I realized it is not necessary since water is flowing abundantly, often across the trail. Carry less water. Lower pack weight makes for an easier hike.

Lesson 5 – Take Neros Or Zeros Regularly

I had not spent a night in a hostel or town until several days of rain was in the forecast. Since I had a mail resupply box waiting for me at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, I decided to get a shuttle there and then slack pack the trail for two days in the rain.

Most hikers have already spent two to three nights (or more?) at hostels where they could get to restaurants to eat large meals and to stores to resupply. One hiker’s pack weighs only 14 pounds because she is resupplying frequently and is sleeping in shelters. My pack weighs about 24 – 26 pounds because I am carrying 5 -6 days of food. The old adage is that one’s pack gains 10 pounds on the uphills. I sure do feel the weight. I am reconsidering my options.

Lesson 6 – Take Photos of  People I Meet On The Trail

My friend Sherri, who bicycled cross country years ago, reminded me to photograph people I meet. I have taken photos of people, such as day hikers or a Trail Ambassador I met more than once, and some of the people who provided trail magic, but I have not photographed other thru hikers.

I wish I had a photograph of Michelle and TJ, my first trail sisters. TJ had to get off the trail for family reasons. I hope Michelle is not too far behind me and that we meet again.

At Albert Mountain, Mouse Bait asked Josh to take a photo of the two of us. Then he took a photo of me and Josh. I wish I had thought to take photos of them as we all had different plans for dealing with the rain and a resupply.

Tonight at the restaurant, Marmou asked whether he could take my photo.I then took a photo of him, Crane, and Miller. My new practice has begun!

Lesson 7 -Take a Sponge Bath Every Night

I sleep so much more comfortably when I don’t feel sweaty and grimy. Even when it is cold outside, I am going to try to wipe down in my tent. One night I heated up water for my sponge bath, which was delightful!

Lesson 8 – Stretch Every Day

I know I should stretch in the morning and at night, even for a few minutes, but I rarely do. I am hereby taking the stretch pledge!  Go to it!



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Comments 14

  • Darrell & Jen : Apr 27th

    Phyllis … we found your blog after returning from our section hike. We met you the morning after staying at the Hawk Mountain campsite, we talked about your dirty girl gaiters, took a picture of the crazy tree and leapfrogged each other all morning. So excited to be able to follow your journey and wish you all the best. Congratulations on the 100 mile mark. We ended up making it to the NC/GA border before heading from home which was our ‘overachiever’ goal. We thoroughly enjoyed the trail and are talking about our return to complete our thru. Take care!

    • Phyllis Rubenstein : Apr 30th

      So exciting that we met on the trail and you’re reading my posts. Congratulations on completing your section hike.
      One of my lessons is to photograph people I meet. Would you send me your photos?

  • Charlotte : Apr 27th

    Phyllis I am so excited to follow you on your AT journey! I’m planning to do the AT to celebrate my 70th birthday. You inspire me with your writings. Love your explanations, and story telling style for those, like me, who have backpacked but never thru hiked. In my early 20s I used to explore the Pacific Crest Trail at least the John Muir section, in the back country of Yosemite, and Sequoia and Kings Canyon. My husband and I backpacked the Trinity Alps in the northwestern part of California about 90 miles away from people. Talking with my shoulder Dr on Monday to explain the training I am goings to do before I am ready to train or bus back there. Enjoy this beautiful journey!!!

    • Phyllis Rubenstein : Apr 30th

      How exciting to hear from someone who is planning an AT hike at age 70! I hope your shoulder issues resolve.

  • Jill N : Apr 28th

    Phyllis, love reading your blog! Hope the weather clears up for you and all hikers soon. Glad you figured out the bear canister. Good luck with the new socks! I liked the comment from Charlotte Apr 27 mentioning Trinity Alps in Mt Shasta region. Wonderful memories!
    Congrats on your travels so far ??

    • Phyllis Rubenstein : Apr 30th

      Rain last night and this morning. I decided to head indoors again. The next several days should be dry and cool.

    • Phyllis Rubenstein : May 1st

      Hi Jill,
      I too have fond memories of our backpacking trip in the Mt Shasta area! So glad you are following my blog posts!

      • Chris ellis : May 1st

        My friend and hiked ans met you at a camp site just after NOC. we were section hiking and were amazed at you ability and kindness. Keep it up , your friends from Georgia…

        • Phyllis Rubenstein : May 5th

          Great to hear from you. Keep up your section hiking!

  • Eve : Apr 29th

    I am really enjoying your blog. I hope the socks with toes protect your feet really well. I guess one can always learn something new things, even after many many years of hiking. Glad you found a way to lighten your pack.

    • Phyllis Rubenstein : Apr 30th

      So many lessons each day!

  • Roberta Downey : Apr 30th

    How wonderful to be chasing spring! I will be thinking of you out on your glorious adventure. Part of the trek seems to involve lessons for everyone, I never would have thought toe socks would be the answer to blisters. Thanks for the info!

    • Phyllis Rubenstein : Apr 30th

      My blisters have almost all resolved!
      The wildflowers are glorious!

  • David : May 13th

    Thanks your your update on socks and look forward to hearing more about how you hear is holding up and/or changing with your adventure

    Congrats on your feet feeling better


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