Seven Lessons I’ve Learned as I Prepare for an Appalachian Trail Thru-hike
- The Appalachian Trail is not flat. The idyllic winding trail of my imagination exists, but rarely, and for only a few yards at a stretch. The reality is a steep and treacherous footpath designed by someone whose definition of “trail” was apparently “rocks.” Which leads to lesson #2:
- I’m going to fall, and it will hurt. So far during my day hikes I’ve escaped with only a few bruises and a swollen hand. But after several falls I’ve learned that (1) I’d rather go up a rocky slope than down one, and (2) the smallest thing can lead to disaster, including taking my eyes off my feet for a second to admire the view. (Warning: never look up!)
- There are snakes. I’ve only seen one so far, a harmless, six-foot black snake that didn’t bother me too much. But apparently the rocks in Pennsylvania are riddled with them, which totally freaks me out. The good news is that I haven’t heard of many AT hikers getting bitten. Of course, I haven’t searched for that information, either, preferring a head-in-the-sand approach. Even so, I’ve spent many sleepless nights worrying about how I’m going to get through those snake-infested boulder fields. (The answer? FAST!)
- I’m not immune to hiker woes. I’ve been trying to do everything I can to avoid the physical problems that typically plague thru-hikers. The last thing I want is to be limping along in misery for months on end. But despite my research, and despite being careful to avoid the usual beginner pitfalls (training too hard, carrying too much weight, and wearing the wrong kind of socks), I’ve still managed to get blisters, sore muscles, and aching knees. (Note: duct tape is a godsend!)
- Poison ivy is everywhere, and it is smart. Seriously. According to researchers, poison ivy not only thrives on the Appalachian Trail, but it is “auto-domesticating itself to grow in human habitats,” which includes the AT. Really? Poison ivy can think? As if the trail weren’t dangerous enough…
- At some point, I’m going to have to do “you-know-what” in the woods. I can’t avoid it forever, no matter how distasteful it sounds. In preparation for the big event, I’ve been researching how-to techniques (such as holding onto a tree or leaning against a log), and pondering the pros and cons of various trowels and wipes. What I really need to worry about, though, is how to find a poison ivy-free spot! (See lesson #5.)
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