Why Did I Not Know This Sooner? Hiker Hindsight

“Why did no one tell me about this?” The number of times I asked this question during my thru-hike was more then I thought it would have been. That might have been because I did ignore some of the advice that I read and got, but other things were not something I knew beforehand. As the hiking season is starting up I have been thinking about all the things I learned along my hike. Most of my lessons came out of learning the hard way and I thought I’d try to save you the time of doing what I did. So here are some of the things I ignored that I wish I didn’t and somethings I wish I had known.

Take It Easy

The first week on trial is the best time to learn and understand what you need and don’t need, and how your body feels when hiking every day. One of the things I wish I really listened to is that you do not need to push yourself for the first few weeks. I ended up hurting my knee my third day out because I got too excited and thought running with a full pack was a good idea. You truly do not need to go and do crazy miles early on because that is one of the times when injuries are most common and you don’t want to end your hike before it starts. Now when you start to feel good and strong this does not mean you can go from ten to 20 in a day. I gave myself plantar fasciitis because I took on a 22-mile day to get closer to Damascus VA. I had not done many big miles (17-20) regularly before that and the stress from that day really messed up my feet and it stayed a problem (about a month) till I got Dr. Scholl’s plantar fasciitis inserts and rolled out my feet every day. Really, I wish I had listened to my body more and did not push myself as hard as I did my first two months, or I wished that I pushed myself in a more regulated way.

KT tape on my feet to help with my plantar fasciitis.

Mail Drop or Town Shop

You eat a lot while hiking and food becomes one of the most important things in your life, so choose it wisely. I wish I had not mailed as much food to myself as I did. I dehydrated my own veggies and mailed it to myself once a month. I would do that 100% again but I would have left out all the extra food I thought I would still want after a month of eating it. About 80% of my resupply went in hiker boxes because I could not even think about eating it. I wasted a lot of money buying food ahead of time that I would not eat on my hike. For me, I liked buying food as I went so I could mix things up. If I could do it again I would send my dehydrated veggies with a few little fun treats to myself once a month and then maybe make a box to send to the towns that are expensive or have very little options, and then resupply in town once a week. I would have saved more money before my hike if I had not made full resupply boxes of food I would not eat.

Just picking up a few things.

Bear Bag vs. Bear Canister

I got my trail name Bear Box because I started my hike with a bear canister and people made fun of me for it. When I got to Neel Gap I mailed my canister home and got a bear bag. I did this because I felt my can was too big and just did not fit in my pack with my gear well. Now if you had told me how hard it is to throw a bear line I might not have sent my can home. I cursed my bear bag so many nights and I have quite a few good stories of my bear bag fails. I don’t know if I would have the same feelings about my canister if I had carried it the whole time, but I can tell you that I missed my canister a lot and sometimes wished I had it with me. Honestly, it’s a hard choice to make and I guess the good in between is an Ursack.

The team at Mountain Crossings mailing my bear can home for me.

OK. And now here are just some random things I wish someone told me about before I started hiking.

  • Grouse make this very loud drumming display to show that they are hot and tough birds. This sounds like a drum beat and you can sometimes feel it in your ears. I heard this sound for two weeks and thought something was wrong with my ears and got very worried. Turns out it’s just this dumb bird so don’t freak out like I did when you hear them. You’re not dying.
  • Um, you might pee yourself more often then what is normal for your age; also, people poop themselves so don’t freak out if this happens to you or a fellow hiker. Just support each other even in the wired very personal ways. It’s more common then you think.
  • The prickles. I can only describe them as a prickly feeling on your back. I did not know what this was and when it first happen to me I was very confused about what was causing it. I guess it is salt buildup in your back skin and is pretty normal. Here are some things you can do when you feel them. Take a debit card to your back and scrap the salt out, wash your back with water really well, or stay very hydrated. Those are things people told me to do and they all work OK, but I would say the card one is the least fun. I scraped salt out of my friend’s back outside of the AT headquarters in Harpers and it’s a fantastic memory.
  • Hypothermia is no joke, and if it’s raining even in 50-degree weather, you can have hypothermia. Always have at least one pair of dry clothes on you and make sure to look out for fellow hikers who might be having problems. Wet and cold is very dangerous and should not be taken lightly.
  • You can get jungle foot pretty easily. I knew more than one person who got this and so please if it rains a lot and the trail is flooded try to dry your feet out and take good care of them.
  • Blogging and hiking is harder then you think. You have to really set aside time to do it. I was not very good at this and ended up not blogging at all after VA. I wish I was better about it but you can go back in time.
  •   Eat Gummies! I started eating Gummies because they looked fun and I was tired of Snickers. They are a hiker must have and make an amazing end of the day treat. It was what I looked forward to at the end of the day.
  • Don’t feel the need to rush through anything. The trail is amazing and the people you meet are so lovely. It’s not always the ones to finish first that win. Have fun and never feel guilty about taking your time or enjoying a part of the trial you love or spend time with your trail family.

Remember always pack in your Gummies.

Have fun out there and remember to be safe. You’ll learn a lot out on the trail and what works for you, but I hope you can take a little something from a few of my lessons from the trail.

Love, Bear Box

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Comments 5

  • Christopher Kelley : Feb 12th

    Loved this … good advice you rarely hear about

    • Brooks Kelley : Feb 13th

      I also agree about the advice from Bear Box. I would add that the woodpeckers were pretty concerning too.

      I thru hiked the AT in ’99 with trailname Mr. Boo. Just an FYI, my oldest son’s name is Christopher too.

      Anyway, if you plan to thru hike the AT or have, let me know if you blog it so I can tell him about it. 😉

      Mr. Boo GA->ME ’99

  • Kurtis Kirsch : Feb 13th

    Take some practice hikes before attempting a thruhike! Talk to former AT hikers before attempting a thru hikers they love talking about hiking,and are willing to give advice!

  • Tim Bowman : Feb 13th

    Hey Katie! Great article and thanks. My wife and I are going back and forth about sending ourselves food boxes after hearing similar stories to yours. I think I like your advice about just targeting those towns that are not expensive or have little selection. Can you name a few such towns?


    • Bear box : Feb 13th

      Hey Tim,

      Zach wrote this a while back and I would say these are the big towns plus Kent, Connecticut and Hanover, NH(there is a Walmart out of town but it took some time to hitch and the professors of the college where the only people to pick us up) https://thetrek.co/best-towns-send-mail-drops-appalachian-trail/. I don’t exactly remember many other towns but I know there are others. Plus it’s hard because you never know where you will stop but most of these place are big stopping points on trail. You will also hear of place on trail and when you get to a good resupply town send another box there if you have not done so already. My hiking partners did this sometimes. Have fun on the trail this year and good luck you two!


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