Lessons Learned Early on the Appalachian Trail
“Teach Your Children” the Graham Nash song comes to mind. The Trail does teach well. You prepare, you read, you watch videos. All good ways to spend time prior to hitting the trail. Then like in any endeavor, doing is much more powerful than thinking about doing. The glory belongs to those who are on the playing field, etc…Teddy Roosevelts famous narrative, and the Trail is no exception.
The Early Lessons Learned
Having completed the first 101 miles of my flip flop (101 is the prime number nearest 100, I like the unique quirkiness of prime numbers) here are some early lessons I have learned.
The lesson of the acceleration of gravity: Backpacks are much heavier than you think going uphill. Backpacks are also much heavier than you think going downhill.
The lesson of losing weight: You can not eat enough, no matter how hard you try, to avoid losing weight.
The lesson of resupply: Backpacking meals are great from a big box outdoor store, however, these are not close to the trail so the lesson to learn is to become very good at figuring out what to buy at Walmart, Dollar General, and various gas station convenience stores. These places stock very few lightweight freeze dried backpacking meals.
The lesson of packing our fears: Everyone needs a more experienced hiker to do a shakedown on their pack. Everyone brings too much to the trail.
The lesson of “hike your own hike”: This being the most common advice given freely on the Trail, you really do not fully comprehend its application until you have to resist the temptation to try and keep up with someone with a faster pace, or try to coordinate being at a certain place at a certain time to be part of something that sounds like it might be worth doing, or until you coordinate the leaving time or the overnight location with some newly acquainted group. This of course has to be balanced with the desire to be part of the social structure of the groups moving along for camaraderie and friendship as the Trail self sorts the various folks as the Trail is very wise and has seen it all.
The lesson of Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity: The shelter will become further away as you come closer to its actual location. This distance expands proportionately with the intensity of the rain that is falling on you at that time.
The lesson of shelter mice: All shelters have mice. The closer your head is to the wall of the shelter increases the probability that you will be introduced to one up close and personal in the middle of the night.
The lesson of early to bed and early to rise: Trail time is 5 am. Bedtime is 8 pm.
The lesson of Hermoine’s purse (from the Harry Potter movies): The shelter can expand to fit as many hikers as needed no matter how small when it is raining.
The lesson of camp shoes: Bring camp shoes
The lesson of White Stag (an outdoor leadership program): Drink thy water, love thy feet.
The lesson of trekking poles: Eventually, everyone uses trekking poles at some point (or gets creative with sticks from the ground)
The lesson of accounts payable: On the trail, cash is king. Credit cards are useless at most on trail resources.
The lesson of food, water and showers: Never pass by offered food, a water refill source or a free shower
The lesson of the snoring hostel dorm: The loudest snore will come from the person who finds it easiest to fall back asleep
The lesson of toilet paper and Zip Lock bags
: On the Trail commodity exchange, these are the most valuable asset classes
The lesson of weather predictions: Weather prediction can be somewhat accurate in the normal world, however, the long skinny strip of land adjacent to either side of the AT is its own special weather corridor where the supercomputer models and calculations of the real world do not apply.
The lesson of dampness: Everything in your pack will always be damp. Not necessarily wet, but definitely damp.
Many more lessons yet to learn.
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