Lessons Learned My First Month on the AT
As a flip-flopper, my first month was spent enjoying of the rocks of Pennsylvania, farms & swamps of New Jersey, limited water supply of New York, ups & downs of Connecticut, and the rocky & rooty terrain of Massachusetts. Overall, this past month has been quite the adventure and I am really looking forward to what is coming next! For now, though, here are some lessons I’ve learned through my Appalachian trials thus far…
Accept that you will be wet and embrace it:
Yes, it will suck. Yes, you will smell like a wet dog all day and quite possibly subsequent days afterwards. Sometimes you aren’t even sure if the dampness you are experiencing is from the rain, running into wet foliage, or just sweat (most likely the cause). Rain gear can only do so much. I personally haven’t even used my rain gear just because it’s been too hot to hike in it. I end up getting more drenched in sweat contained within my rain jacket than I would have if I just toughed it out and walked in the rain. Granted, I have mostly been hiking in pretty warm weather, so my opinion of rain gear might quickly change upon hitting colder weather in higher elevations. Hiding from the rain can also only work for so long. I hate to break it to you, but you do need to leave the shelter at some point.
Along with this point, putting on wet hiking clothes in the morning is the absolute last thing you want to experience…that is, unless you wake up to a skunk stealing your food bag, then I would say that is probably not a fabulous experience either.
Solution: spend some time to lay out and dry on the next sunny day. It will totally be worth it. Or, if you are near a town, you could go do some laundry to clean and dry out your wet clothing.
The chaffing is so painfully real:
Just when you think you’ve prevented it in one place, the evil migrates to another creative location. Sometimes it seems like you just can’t win when you have one of those nights where you unload a serious amount of Gold Bond down your pants and proceed to walk around like a cowboy for the rest of the night. My advise though: go commando and use Body Glide. It will save you a lot of pain and misery down the line. The key to prevention is good ventilation. I vote spandex plus breezy shorts/skirts/kilts (if that’s what you’re into).
Trekking poles are a gift from the thru-hiking gods:
As someone who had never felt the need for poles in the past, I very quickly realized the flawed ways of my past as I attempted to traverse my way over the rocky mess that is Pennsylvania. Poles are an absolute necessity is you do not want to destroy your knees and feet. I learned this lesson the hard way by not having poles for the first week and a half of my thru-hike and I can assure you, it was not a fun time. My legs have since thanked me for my wise purchase. I absolutely love my black diamond trekking poles now! If you use your poles enough, they can even help tone your arms. Turn leg day every day into arms AND legs day everyday!!! Sounds really tempting doesn’t it?
You will be in pain at some point:
Whether that be from heat rash on your hip belt, your shoes not fitting right, or accidentally slicing off the top of your pinky toe on a cinder block…shit happens. When it does happen, make sure you try to deal with the issue as soon as you can. As inconvenient as it might be, just stop and put the moleskin on a hot spot before it turns into a blister, drink water before your headache turns into heat exhaustion, and please stop and clean bloody scraps and gashes before they get infected. Trust me, you’ll thank me later. Sometimes you might even need to take a zero day to recover, and that is totally fine! Do what you need to do. If you’re feeling shitty and not enjoying your time on the trail, then is it really worth it to keep putting yourself through that pain? I think not, therefore, take a zero day to relax and recoup. It’s ok if you get separated from your hiking partner. You might be able to catch up to them anyway, or you might not. There are lots of other very friendly people on the trail, so you are more than likely to make some new friends. Or you could spend some quality alone time to contemplate life, your future, existence, the universe, you know, casual stuff.
You’re bathroom schedule will get totally messed up:
Your metabolism does all different kinds of weird things while you’re on the trail. Through my experience thus far, all the processes have been sped up. You get hungry more frequently, you eat more food, you go to the bathroom more. Tis life on the trail. There has definitely been an adjustment period for my gastrointestinal tract to determine the best time to relieve itself. We have yet to make a compromise between urgency and convenience… I’m still working on it.
You develop a love-hate relationship with water:
You love to drink it, but hate to carry it. You need water to survive, but you also kind of need your legs to not collapse halfway up a mountain due to 6+ extra pounds of water (that’s a lot of extra weight btw). Fun fact: 1 liter of water = 2.2lbs (1kg)! You know you need to get water from this next stream because you just rain out, but that also means you need to carry it up the next couple mountains you’re about to summit. Every hiker has suffered that inner turmoil of whether it’s worth it to get water sooner and carry it further, or risk it to go a little farther up the trail to a stream that may or may not be dried out. The struggle is quite real.
People on the trail are the best kinds of people:
They are some of the most unique, genuine, caring, and determined human beings I have ever met. Everyone has a different story to tell and reasons for why they are on the trail. That is why I love to talk to new people every day because their love for the trail is inspiring and it revitalizes my own motivation to complete my AT adventure. Meeting these amazing people is one of the most enriching parts of this experience.
Hope you guys also learned something from my endeavors, because I certainly did!
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Rock on Erin.. I’ve enjoyed your posts!