Research & REI
Where to start?
So, here I am with this growing seed/desire to hike the AT. What do I do? How do I get ready? Where do I start? Oh, right, Springer Mountain. Duh. But wait, there’s more. I could start at Mt Katahdin, Harper’s Ferry, Delaware Water Gap, Clingman’s Dome, or mile 853. Now is that mile 853 north-bound or south-bound? Questions, questions, and more questions. And the answer to one question creates five more questions.
Ok, Chris. Stop, drop, and roll! No not that, I’m not on fire. Stop, take a deep breath, and gather your senses. Use your military training and problem-solving skills. Research, that is what I need to do. Whew, I have a starting point. Ok, now what do I research? The Appalachian Trail, or AT for short, was thought of by Benton MacKaye…stop, stop, stop! I am not writing a report on the AT. Have you heard the ole saying, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” This will apply to the AT also. “How do you hike the AT? One step at a time.” And the first step is not even on the trail or through the stone arch at Amicalola Falls State Park, Georgia. I would say the first step is researching what YOU will need to survive living on the AT for six months.
Gear, that is what I will need. Backpack, sleeping bag, stove, water filter, to name a few of the items. I searched the internet for a backpack and could not find one that would hold a six-month supply of toilet paper or food. What to do what to do? Wait a minute. I read somewhere online that you only need to carry 4-5 days of supplies before you happen across another town. So, let’s refine our search for a backpack that will hold five days of toilet paper. Never mind, the internet has too much information sometimes. Let’s look for local recreational equipment stores. That way I can look, touch, feel, and try on what I will need. I might even get lucky and talk to someone that backpacks, bonus.
I Google recreational equipment stores and I get Dick’s Sporting Goods, Academy Sports, Cabela’s, and REI. OMG! Did you know that REI stands for Recreational Equipment, Inc.? I’m going there. I head to the REI store in Cary, NC and start walking around looking at all the gear, gadgets, and the sorts. I have hit the motherload! A store employee by the name of Alex comes up to me and ask if I needed some help. “Yes, I do. I need a lot of help. I want to hike the AT.” His response was one that I will never forget. He completed the AT a few years ago and the Pacific Crest Trail last year. He shows me some backpacks, sleeping bags, and gives me a lot of pointers. Some I have retained; others have been forgotten. I will use the excuse of age as the reason.
REI in Cary, NC is my store of choice. I shopped at other equipment stores and online to acquire the gear that I feel will last and help me complete the AT. I tested the gear, set up, took down, and used all of it (in my backyard) to ensure that I could use it day or night. Pretty simple, right? It will bite me in the butt. I packed and unpacked my backpack to get a sequence so I would not have to dig for something I needed. I did hikes walks with my loaded backpack to get used to it and walking. This will bite me in the butt, too.
A few weeks before my planned start date, April 9, 2021, I went back to REI to have a pack shakedown. The best thing I did. Michelle, recommended by most of the REI employees, did my pack shakedown. She went through every item in my pack. Asked me questions like, “What is this for, what is your reasoning for this, and why do you have two of these?” She took a little over 15 pounds of stuff out of my pack that I would not need or could get a lighter version. That brought my backpack weight down to 35 pounds minus water. And I was going to carry two one-liter bottles which would bring my total backpack weight to close to 40 pounds.
I want to thank every REI Cary, NC employee for their assistance. Everyone was very courteous and helpful to me.
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