For my Kumon kiddos
At one of my myriad jobs (off the trail), I work with a wonderful group of bright kiddos. I told them when I was leaving that I was walking 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine, but I’m hoping that this post will help them imagine what that entails!
It may come as no surprise that I spend a great deal of my time walking. Think about being in a car – how fast are you moving? Probably 25-60 miles per hour, right? Well, when I plan out my days I have to take into consideration that I’m walking everywhere with 30 lbs on my back. I can go 2 miles per hour. Two miles per hour! How long would it take you to get to Kumon at that speed? Sometimes, if I’m going downhill, I can move a little bit faster. Just a little bit though! A few days ago, I walked 26 miles and it took 13 hours. Thirteen hours of walking!
One thing I get asked a lot is what do I do when I’m walking? I mean, I walk for 8 to 13 hours everyday. Sometimes, I listen to music. A lot of times, there is no one else in sight and I sing out loud really loudly. I have to be careful with that though – last week, I was singing Disney songs at full volume and ran into a group of dayhikers heading the opposite way on the trail. They were not impressed with my musical skills, but I think they were amused! Other times, I walk with other thruhikers. We talk a lot about food (more on that later!), and our gear (how much does your pack weigh!?), and sometimes we just walk together and enjoy the mountains, hills, and fields. The walking doesn’t get nearly as boring as you may think it does, because you never know what the terrain will be like, or what amazing vista is just around the next corner. As long as you keep your eyes up, there is almost always something amazing to see!
During a normal day, a woman my size who works in an office burns about 2,000 calories in a day. Out on the trail, I burn between two and four times that. That’s up to 8,000 calories. In a day. Everyday. Food is a thruhiker’s #1 friend, #1 obsession, and most enjoyable past time. After a few weeks on the trail, most of my friends and I have started to experience “hiker hungries.” “Hiker hungries” are when you’re hungry all the time! My hiker hungries hit when I was in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. I walked 20 miles in my pack for the first time and was suddenly so hungry I wanted to eat a giant pizza all by myself! Now that I’ve settled into my hiking routine, I can tell you what my “hiker hungry” menu looks like in a normal day:
- Breakfast: I try to eat this meal while still curled up in my sleeping bag. I usually wake around 5am so I can read a little with breakfast and still see sunrise from the trail. Generally in the morning, I’ll eat two poptarts, a Cliff bar, and some (cold) oatmeal (or a Snickers if I’m really hungry!)
- Midmorning snack: Usually, I walk 10 miles before lunch. As I’m walking, I keep some food in the side pcoket of my hiking pants. My hiking buddy, Beast, calls this my snack pocket. I stock my snack pocket with a protein bar, trail mix, and always a candy bar to get my from mile 7 to mile 10.
- Lunch: The halfway point of my day is a wonderful excuse to take off my pack and kick up my heels for 30 minutes or an hour. My leisurely lunch includes more trail mix, a healthy serving of summer sausage, cheeze and mayonnaise on tortillas, a dessert of peanut butter (right out of the jar!), and maybe some SourPatch Kids.
It’s only noon! Can you imagine?
- Midafternoon snack: Now I’ve walked half your mileage, but still have 10 more miles to go! What’s a girl to do!? Well, there’s definitely another Snickers in my future. Probably also some dried fruit and another protein bar.
- Dinner: This is the best meal because I always have hot dinner. On big mileage days, I have “double dinner:” couscous and beef stew, or rice and pasta. Two delicious, full entrees.
Even after all this, it’s not unusual for a thruhiker to wake up at 2am hungry! But it’s not as easy as pulling out another Cliff bar, because we store our food in trees . . .
When you get home from Kumon, finish your homework, and eat your dinner, you probably brush your teeth and wash your face in a bathroom with running water and crawl into a nice warm bed. Out on the trail, it’s a little different! When I’m done walking for a day, I have to find myself a nice level patch of ground. Usually, I look for a place near other people so I don’t have to sleep alone in the middle of the forest; hearing footsteps in the woods in the middle of the night can be a little scary after all! After I’ve found a little patch of flat ground, I have to pitch and stake down my tent. My tent has a waterproof piece of fabric that sits on the ground, the tent itself, and a big cover to keep the wind, rain, and snow(!) out. All of these get staked to the ground so I don’t blow away in the middle of the night. After building my little house, I have to blow up my air mattress. Do you know anyone else that has to blow up their bed every night? After blowing up the mattress, I shake out my sleeping bag and put a sleeping bag liner into it. Curled into my tent, liner, and sleeping bag, I have slept through snowstorms, rain squalls, and 18 degree nights – it’s a nice, cozy little set-up!
After my little home is ready, I can cook dinner. Cooking dinner requires water and water in the woods isn’t safe to drink – it has lots of bacteria and germs in it that could make me very, very sick. To stay healthy, I have to find the cleanest spring water I can and then put some chemicals in the water to kill all the dangerous things. The chemicals take a little while to work though, so if I don’t plan carefully, sometimes I have to wait awhile before I can make dinner! When I do have clean water though, I build my kitchen by attaching my stove to its fuel and get cooking. Remember that in the woods, I also don’t have a refrigerator, a microwave, or a freezer. There also aren’t any grocery stores – all the food I want, I have to carry around with me on my back! I have found that I can four to seven days’ worth of food on my back – that’s a lot of food!
After dinner, I brush my teeth with my clean water and then put everything with any odor into a bag. That includes my toothpaste, soap, and all my food – every last wrapper, crumb, and candy piece has to go into that bag because there are bears in the woods and bears love people food! To stop the bears from stealing our people food (and potentially hurting us by accident), we hang all our smelly items (food included!) high, high, high up in the trees. We call this “hanging bear bags,” and we have to do it every night.
In the morning, we do all these chores in reverse. We pull down our bear bags, brush our teeth, make a little breakfast, break down our tents, pack our packs, throw them on our backs and, well, start walking again!
Trees and Learning for Life!
My hiking buddy’s name is Beast. Beast is a logger from Pennsylvania and he knows trees. He can identify trees from their leaves, their twigs, and (coolest of all!) their bark. Walking with Beast, I’m learning about trees too. Did you know that sassafras smells kind of like root beer? And yellow birch smells like spicy apple cider. Red maple has shaggy bark that flakes off easily, while black cherry has the exact same shaggy bark, but it doesn’t flake off at all! I’ve also learned that dogwood has twigs that point towards the sky, and all maples have twigs that grow opposite each other (instead of staggered across from each other) Who knew!? Rock oak and American hickory have similar leaves, but rock oaks’ leaves have rounded lobes, while American hickories’ leaves have pointy lobes. Beast quizzes me on trees at the end of the days and teaches me new ones whenver we run across them in the forest. It’s like a fun game and I’m happy to have a hiking buddy who can help make the woods come alive. Remember, learning how to learn and learning to like learning are just as important as the numbers, words, and grammar rules you learn in school. Out here in the woods, I’m not reading a single textbook, but I’m learning something new everyday.
While writing this post, I am 468.8 miles into my 2,179 journey. I’m currently in Damascus, VA enjoying some real food, running water, and not having to pitch my tent because I have a little hotel room for two whole nights. I miss you all and can’t wait to see you this summer!
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