11 Learning Lessons from My Weekend Section Hike

I just want to start off by saying that this is by no means a comprehensive list of what you should learn before you get on the trail. Rather, it is just a bunch of stumbles and observations from my brief experience.

Over the summer I backpacked the AT in New Jersey and New York (with a few bonus miles of Connecticut) doing NJ SOBO and NY NOBO. I used my favorite summer job perk, Summer Fridays, to accomplish this. To those of you unfamiliar with this concept, Summer Fridays are when you work extra during the week and get bonus ‘time off’ on Fridays for the extra hours you put in. Here are a few things I learned during these hikes, things I’ve noticed and the bugs I worked out.

1) Limits can be pushed

I thought planning for one 15 mile day was crazy. Turns out it wasn’t as crazy as I thought and I even pushed myself to do 44 miles in 2.5 days during one weekend (with no trail legs!).

I pretty much cried with joy when I finished this.

I pretty much cried with joy when I finished this.

2) Preparation is key

One weekend I forgot my headlamp, I started hiking at noon and by the time I finished my 17 miles it was passed dark. I had to put up my tent one handed with the light of my cellphone and cook dinner in the dark… not fun. Then there was the time I forgot a fork… that turned into a granola bar.  Now I always triple check my bag. Preparing yourself with the right gear is important. A proper pack makes a huge difference. I didn’t realize how happy I was to rip apart my pack until I experienced what it was like to hike in a properly fitted pack.

This is what happens when you hike with inadequate gear.

This is what happens when you hike with inadequate gear.

3) Beware of the bugs

I certainly learned the hard way that organic natural bug spray and standard outdoor DEET bug spray don’t make the cut. My first weekend out I pulled 3 ticks off my skin and was I full of mosquitoes bites. For the rest of the summer I switched to 98% DEET and didn’t see a single tick for the rest of my hikes. It made all the difference in the world.
Side note: Does anyone know why every gnat wants to fly directly into my eyes?

4) Ultralight open shelters are not for me

I have the REI Quarter Dome 1. It’s a pretty light tent and it can get even lighter if you use the footprint, poles and rainfly to make an ultralight shelter. The first night I did this, it was great and my pack had some extra space. The second night didn’t work out as well. The area I camped in was full of vicious mosquitos (my mortal enemies) and hiking passed it wasn’t an option. Soon realized I had made a terrible mistake by giving up my netted protection.

5) Again, bugs. Mosquitos are persistent little bastards

The same night as above, I convinced my friend (with some groveling) to leave me his new netted hammock to use so I would have some protection. He was getting off the trail that night anyway, so I wasn’t putting him out. It wasn’t enough to save me though. The mosquitoes bit through the hammock, then through my sleeping bag, and again through my clothes. It was a bad night. From then on I stuck to my full tent set up and I now plan on treating my gear with Permethrin for my thru hike.

6) Hiking with a friend

Hiking with a friend can be great. They can trade food with you, share gear, time can fly with great conversation and generally it’s nice to have company. On the flip side, hiking with a friend can be irritating. Sometimes I just want it to be quiet, to hike my own pace and after after a hot, bug infested, tired third day of hiking anything anyone says (besides “here’s your giant steak sandwich”) will bother me. Sorry!

No matter what shape this guy is in, he'll keep up.

No matter what shape this guy is in, he’ll keep up.

7) Some things I did were terrifying

Crossing the Palisades Parkway, a two lane highway with cars going 60-70 miles to hour, twice. Who thought this was a good idea?

8) It’s the little things

Cooking is a nuisance but hot food is amazing. Especially ramen (at least for now, I love that junk). Toilet paper is the greatest. If I skip even a little stretching, bad pains will come my way. Yoga though, keeps my body functioning mile after mile. Showers. Warm, cozy, clean showers really explain themselves. The wonderful views make every mile worth it. Lastly, waking up to the early sun to hike is easier than sleeping in later and getting up work.

Wonderful wilderness

Wonderful wilderness

9) Things I learned the hard way

Chafing… Breathable athletic underwear is and always will be worth every penny. If you’ve been on a particularly rocky, hilly trail all day, with no trail legs, even if you feel okay, the extra 4 mile rock scramble to the next shelter might actually kill you (or your spirit at least). So much pain, please be mindful of your limits. Also, hiking 17 miles, starting at 1 PM, while sick, is a terrible plan. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

10) The funny things

I was peeing just off trail and heard some fearful running behind me. Apparently, a bear was scared of my pale butt. Now I know to use this to my advantage in the event of a bear attack (please never do this in the event of an actual bear attack). Filtering water seemed to take longer than filling my bottle, so I would hike with a ton of water to make it to the next faucet. Now, I realize two things. I wasted a chance to learn the intricacies of my filter and also learned from carrying the extra water that I can hike with a ton of weight on my back.

11) My main thru hike concern?

Mostly I’m concerned about smell. If I can smell that bad after 2-3 days, how will I smell during a thru hike? I’m also concerned that this is this currently my main concern?

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