Halfway There: Tips I’ve Learned So Far
Having passed the halfway point on the AT a few weeks ago, I’ve been reflecting on all the things I’ve discovered and learned on the trail. It’s been an amazing experience and I wanted to give some advice to other hikers currently on the trail and future hikers.
And before I get started, you can check out my video from the trail where I devour half a gallon of ice cream and wonder where the 2018 halfway sign is (there was a 2017 sigh but the trail length changed a bit for this year).
1. Trail Names. Get One
It took me five weeks to finally be given the trail name Crazy Horse, but I knew it would happen eventually. It’s funny to see hikers try to resist taking on a trail name but it’s part of the experience so embrace it or wait until a good one comes along and sticks. I got tired of people asking me my trail name when I didn’t have one yet so I was happy to finally take part in the tradition.
2. Don’t Worry So Much About Pack Weight
Everyone wants less weight but if you use an item and enjoy having it, who cares if it weighs a bit extra? I tried really hard at the beginning to lighten my load of 35 pounds. I even sent some things home only to ask for one or two items back. So buy those chocolate bars you want or carry the book you found in a shelter. If it makes the hike more enjoyable than it’s worth it. No sense trying to be ultralight. I’ve hiked with 45 pounds at times because I like having six days of food and I bought a lot of chocolate. At the end of each day I am happy to treat myself.
3. Respect Trail Clubs and Trail Magic
These people are on the trail out of the kindness of their hearts to provide hikers with food, supplies, etc., so make sure you thank them. Be respectful of the trail club members toiling away with trail maintenance. They’re out here volunteering to make the trail better. I always try to thank them and let them know how much I appreciate their work. Some members of a trail club in Virginia even let me paint a white blaze as I hiked through.
4. Leave No Trace
Though it might be tempting to throw paper in the fire pit, if there’s no fire, who’s going to burn it? Somebody else? I feel like my trail name should be Captain Planet since I’m always finding and picking up Snickers wrappers and other trash. We all want to enjoy the wilderness in pristine condition. The worst I’ve seen is human feces in the middle of the trail. Who would do such a thing?
5. Use Your Warranties
Gear fails. I’ve had a compression sack break, a sleeping pad leak, trekking poles ground to nubs. Sh– happens. I was able to call REI, HydraPak, and Osprey to get replacements. The AWOL guide even has their phone numbers printed in the back. These companies are usually very helpful to thru-hikers so use them to your advantage when things break.
6. Purify Your Water
I know of three separate hikers who didn’t filter their water and eventually caught giardiasis or some other intestinal bug. I almost drank some bad water in a trail town that was under a boil water advisory. I made sure to drop in some Aquamira. Not worth the risk.
I’m all for hike your own hike and finding solitude in the woods. But even when I want to be alone for a bit, I found it always pays to be friendly with hikers, even those you think you’ll never see again. I’ve gained valuable info about what’s ahead on the trail or other tips and advice. You never know if you’ll run into people again or need help later on.
8. Get off the Trail
Take a detour. Yolo. Whatever. There are so many things to see off the trail. Ditch your trail family if you have to. Most of us will only hike the AT once so go big or go home. Asheville, N.C., is a great town to spend a day, with tons of breweries. Soak in mineral water at Hot Springs, N.C. Take the Amtrak from Harpers Ferry to Washington, D.C, and see the capital. I stopped in Gatlinburg, Tenn., and visited Dollywood amusement park and have since visited three more amusement parks on my hike. I think I hold the record for most roller coasters ridden on a thru-hike. There was also a cheap and convenient bus from Bear Mountain, N.Y., that goes right into Manhattan. My body and mind need a break from the trail every few weeks.
9. Help Your Fellow Hiker
I always try to help my fellow hiker out because I never know when I might need help. Your gear will fail. You might get lost or your phone won’t have service. I try to pay it forward because there have been times when I had to ask strangers for help or to borrow their phone or a Band-Aid or whatnot. We’re all in this together, in a way.
10. Join a Trail Family… or Don’t
I think it’s a great way for hikers to enjoy the AT but I personally like flying solo. I’ve met a lot of people so far and I enjoy hiking for a few days with a partner at times but I always seem to need some solitude. I see the pros and cons of a trail family so give it a go if you find people you mesh with.
11. Get Good Sleep
Rest is so important when I’ve been hiking 20 to 30 miles a day. I’ve found ear plugs and an eye mask or bandana work perfectly to avoid any unwanted noises, light, or snoring hikers. Simple solutions.
12. Body Glide
I had a lot of problems with blisters and occasionally chafing until a fellow hiker told me to roll on some Body Glide on my feet everyday before I put on my socks. Problem solved. If only I could have those three missing toenails back.
13. Hike Your Own Hike
Blue blaze. Aqua blaze. Yellow blaze. Slackpack. Section hike. Be a purist. It’s your hike and you’re the only one who you have to answer to. Whether you finish or not, make sure you’re having fun and doing it your way. I really wanted to aqua blaze but I’m trying to hike as a purist and knew my conscience wouldn’t allow it. I’ve also seen trail families break apart because some couldn’t keep up or weren’t enjoying the planned agenda.
14. Slow Down
Enjoy it while it lasts. I’ve had several trail maintainers in Virginia tell me to slow down because it’ll be over before I know it. And they’re right. What’s the rush? I also ran into two SOBO hikers who were finishing their hike from the previous year because they got stress fractures. I feared I would meet the same fate when I started hiking 25-plus miles per day and had to find a more sustainable pace.
I hope these tips help some of you out. It’s been a wild and fun adventure so far and I’m excited for the second half.
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