My bum isn’t sold on the moss idea…
Four Weeks and Counting!
In less than 4 full weeks I depart for Springer Mountain with my hiking partners Kimmy and Panda. Where my 7 months of planning went I don’t really know; It feels like I blinked and they disappeared.
The good news is I actually feel prepared to leave now, both mentally and materialistically (gear) speaking. My sleeping bag, all-weather camera case, and hammock with bug net are all in the mail at the moment, and my underquilt, tarp system, camp booties, and trail underwear will follow shortly. That’s what’s left on my list.
That being said there are still a number of things I’m missing, all mentally-speaking. And yes, though I do have my fair share of “not the sharpest tool in the toolbox” moments I’m actually talking about general knowledge. Knowledge about gear and some of the mental lessons learned on the trail. The Appalachian Trials book drives home how your mental state directly impacts whether or not you finish your thru-hike, and even though I have spent a large amount of time reading everyone’s posts and trail journals and following fellow hiker questions, at times even asking my own, I think every future thru-hiker can agree that there’s still a lot of unknown.
I’m Not an Expert Yet
I am an avid outdoor/survival enthusiast and most of my core group of friends and associates are outdoorsmen and survival experts. Our favorite pastime includes hiking through creek beds and woods to find wildlife and insects, build shelters out of dead wood and leaves, and see how many ways we can start a fire. If you wanted to know the reasons behind my call to thru-hike the A.T. that’s a huge one.
One of the many reasons I love the outdoors and survival is that every time I indulge in time for them I will learn something new, especially if I go with my group of friends. They have decades of combined experience and can always offer something relevant to what we’re doing. It’s easy for me to see how that principle applies to my thru-hike.
Whether a person has decades of backpacking/hiking/camping experience or is brand new to it, there is always something new to learn, and the closer I get to my starting date the more I realize how much I still don’t know. Heck, I’ve learned a tremendous amount in the last 7 months just from reading, watching videos, and talking to people, and I haven’t even stepped on the trail yet!
Knowledge is Power
To illustrate what I mean I’m going to share a few of the things I’ve learned:
- If you find yourself in really cold weather without a fire or adequate layering you can boil water with your camp stove, fill your water bottle with it, and put it in your sleeping bag to help warm you up. I have also read that Nalgene bottles are best because they won’t warp like other bottles.
- Ash trees are known to produce a large amount of deadfall so it is unwise to camp near or under them in stormy or windy weather if you can avoid it.
- Even though you don’t want to camp under them ash trees can still be useful. Moss grows on them and can be peeled off in relatively large sheets. These can be rolled into balls and used as fire starter; They can also be used as toilet paper because the moss remains dry and soil-less from staying off the ground. Even though I don’t know how pleased my bum feels about being wiped with a tree fungus my practical side is pleased to have this information after recalling a short A.T. section hike during which I really did run out of toilet paper.
- Honeysuckle can be used as little tender bubbles to start a fire quickly and it grows on hazel trees.
- Hazel trees are notorious for having dead standing wood, which makes good fuel for a fire. They also grow close together, therefore providing good-size bundles of firewood in a small area. Perhaps the most important thing I learned about using hazel trees for firewood and/or shelter is that they grow back quickly so areas of woods you collect larger portions from have the ability to recover quickly.
- There’s a good chance your feet will grow another size when you spend an excessive amount of time hiking and backpacking.
- Leave No Trace principles include staying on the beaten path even if its muddy or gross because going around causes trail widening and therefore has a greater long-term impact. This is actually common sense, but not everyone thinks about it when on the trail. I didn’t really until I read through the LNT principles multiple times.
- If you have a wound, but lack medical supplies you can use tree sap to stop the bleeding until you can get help.
Important Message: Not all of the above information should be utilized on a thru-hike! I still included information that isn’t needed during my thru-hike because I find it interesting, I want to use some of it later, and I think some other outdoor enthusiasts may find it interesting. That in no way means I am condoning practicing all of it on the trail!
The Trail Teaches Many Lessons
I know that once I get on the trail my search for knowledge of the great outdoors and survival skills will have a fresh start; a new playground on which to learn. There will be many opportunities to learn more about gear, outdoor living, and wildlife. Those opportunities may come at self-initiated times or by surprise. They will come in many forms: time alone in the woods, time with my hiking partners, conversations with fellow thru-hikers, and trail angels.
My goal is to soak each experience up and never cease my desire to expand what I know. I encourage all of you to do the same and always be open to learning new things, even if you think (or hope) you never need them.
And I would love to hear other outdoor/survival facts and stories! Things you’ve read, things you’ve tried, things that worked, things that failed. If you have them please share them!
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Be careful with using tree sap to close wounds. If you accidentally use sap from poison oak or similar plants it would not be good