Lessons From My Shakedown Hike
On March 8, 2020, I stood on Springer Mountain in Georgia ready to start my two-week shakedown hike. As a 17-year-old girl about to begin her longest solo hike yet, I was ecstatic. I almost ran past my first white blaze out of excitement for the two weeks to come. My shakedown hike was preparation for my planned 2020 Appalachian Trail SOBO thru-hike, which was later changed to a 2021 NOBO hike. The shakedown hike taught me about gear, friends, and resupplies that will be vital to the success of my thru-hike as I head out in February.
When I started the shakedown hike, my backpack was 42 pounds which was overwhelmingly heavy as a 5 foot 2 woman. My first mistake was that I brought a bear canister. I had tried to hang a bear bag on a hike the summer before, and it took me 45 minutes. I didn’t have the energy to learn how to do a proper bear bag hang before my shakedown hike, and I was too scared to sleep with my food. Although a bear can is a good seat for mealtime and can save a few minutes in the evening, it weighs about three pounds which isn’t worth it for me on a thru-hike. I plan to learn how to hang a bear bag before I start my thru-hike.
My next gear lesson from my shakedown hike was my lack of sock liners. I had heard about sock liners years ago from a friend, but I thought they were useless and would make my feet hot. I could not have been more wrong. After suffering from horrible blisters during the first week of the hike, a fellow hiker recommended that I buy Injinji toe socks at my next resupply. He told me to wear them under my Darn Tough hiking socks to stop the friction between my foot and the sock. Within two days of buying them, all of my blisters magically disappeared. I was amazed. Having always struggled with blisters no matter what shoe I wore, I had assumed blisters were an unavoidable side effect of hiking. I will be bringing two pairs of Injinji socks on my thru-hike, and can’t wait to hike blister-free.
My last gear lesson was my lack of a pillow. I have always used my extra clothes as a pillow when hiking. However, during my shakedown hike, it was so cold that I wore all my clothes and had none left to use as a pillow. On the cold nights, I barely slept because my head was so uncomfortable on my sleeping pad. After seeing a friend use a Sea to Summit inflatable pillow, I decided to invest in one. I can’t wait to use it on my thru-hike. The pillow weighs 2.1 ounces, which makes it worth the weight if it means getting a good night’s sleep.
When I started my shakedown hike, I was solo and planned on staying that way. Because I started my hike in Georgia in March, I was surrounded by thru-hike hopefuls starting on their northbound journeys. On the first day, I ate lunch with a group of seven other hikers, who soon became my first tramily. Although they were all thru-hikers and I was a section hiker, they quickly welcomed me into their bubble. We were a mix of ages ranging from 17 to 50 years old, but we quickly bonded over our love for hiking. I hiked with them for the next week until we got to Hiawassee, Georgia.
In Hiawassee, I found out that one of my friends was heading home and the rest were taking a nero and then continuing on. I was devastated. Only one of my tramily members had planned a full zero day. I had pretty bad blisters and felt the need to take a zero, yet I wanted to keep the tramily together. The next day, my tramily headed back to the trail while I took a zero with the one remaining member. While on the shuttle back to the trail after my zero, I met five other thru-hikers. I hiked with this new group for the next week and they became my second tramily.
From this experience, I learned that tramilies come and go and that’s okay. It’s more important to take care of yourself and hike your own hike than try to keep a tramily together. Additionally, I learned how fast and easy it is to make friends while hiking. On trail it truly doesn’t matter how old you are, your level of education, or your profession. All that matters is that you have a passion for the outdoors and hiking.
I have done lots of three-day backpacking trips all over New England, but none long enough to require a resupply. My only experience with resupplies was on a month-long NOLS course in Alaska in which a helicopter dropped our weekly food rations for us. Obviously, that was not happening on the AT.
On the third day of my hike, I reached Neel Gap. While all of my new friends went into Mountain Crossings for their resupply, I sat outside eating my snickers bar while staring at my still full bear canister. First lesson: I do not need to pack seven days’ worth of food at a time. Even when I reached my next resupply in Hiawassee, Georgia, I still had about three full days’ worth of food. I learned to count out how many meals I would need between resupplies. I also learned that salami and cheese do not keep well when being squished into my backpack for multiple days. Although salami is easy to give up, cheese is my favorite food off the trail. I plan to continue playing the game of “is this cheese too sweaty for me to eat?”
My final destination was Franklin, North Carolina. When I got to Franklin, I had about two days worth of food leftover; mostly food that I now know I don’t like to eat on the trail. The pile of leftover food included tortillas and pop tarts (they are too crumbly). Although I did better with the second resupply after having counted out every meal in Hiawassee, I still overpacked. The skill of knowing how much food to pack in a resupply comes with time and practice. Hopefully, after my hiker hunger hits on my thru-hike, I will be able to eat all the food I pack.
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