Six Things I Learned in Six Weeks on the Appalachian Trail

Experience as a LASHER

As a Long-ass-section-hiker, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of hiking from Bear Mountain, New York to Grafton Notch, Maine. Over a six week period, I traversed 572 miles and knew that I would someday be a thru-hiker. Below are the main lessons I learned from my section hike.  The lessons will help me to prepare for the upcoming thru-hike in April and perhaps inspire you to backpack. 

 

1. You Probably Don’t Need It


Besides the essentials, all of those extra things that you are thinking about bringing, don’t. I brought a bunch of sunblock samples that I didn’t need in the shade of the woods. The extra pair of leggings that I thought I would want at night I didn’t need.I brought soap falsely believing that I would be cleansing with it daily. The geranium oil tick repellent added unnecessary weight as well. I carried all the water I wanted to drink (10 pounds on day one), only to learn better. I quickly realized and sent home the extra weight that I didn’t need. Hotels will provide soap when you actually need it. A sawyer filter makes it easy to “camel up” and carry less water. Less weight makes for a more enjoyable hike.

2. It is Safe to Hike as a Woman Alone

 

When people found out that I would be hiking alone, they asked me how I would protect myself. I sometimes freaked myself out while camping alone or with someone that gave me a weird vibe, but I actually only had two scares. My first night on trail there was a thunderstorm and I couldn’t find the campsite at the Monastery. The second time included a weird older guy smoking pot in a mosquito net that never came out and scared me for some reason. But, I could hike all day by myself knowing that I would get to a shelter and be around other hikers. And, after two short weeks, I found myself hiking with a group until I left the trail. So, while I embarked on the journey alone, most of the time I was not, in fact, alone.


3. Diet restrictions are no longer relevant


My twelve-year run of being mostly vegetarian and an occasional pescatarian stopped on the A.T. The first almost twenty-mile day of hiking brought me to Goose Pond in Massachusetts. When I arrived, there was a family-style dinner happening with some familiar faces sitting around a picnic table. Lucked-up, an entertaining older man from New Zealand, manned the grill and mentioned that there was one hamburger left with my name on it. A small part of me thought that I could say no. But this would entail filtering water, boiling water, and making my own vegetarian meal that would leave me hungry. A bigger part of me thought, “You are hungry, eat the burger.” I accepted the burger within seconds and found myself adding condiments. It tasted like my childhood and satiated my hunger in a way that would quiet that first voice in the future.


4. Waterproof Clothing Doesn’t Really Exist


Waterproof gear may seem water-resistant for a short time but eventually, you get wet. When you are hiking in the pouring rain for hours, the water permeates the gear. So, enjoy the shower and think about starting a fire when you arrive at your next stop. l also like to think about changing into dry clothes that I have stashed inside of a garbage bag lining my pack. I learned this early on in my six weeks and it was a lesson re-experienced every time rain poured for hours.

 

5. Always go to Fire Towers and Scenic Sites


The unadulterated beauty and mostly inaccessible spots are the reason why you do a thru-hike. So remember to stop, be present and enjoy the scenery. Whether it is camping in fire towers, going off-trail to cowboy camp, or taking a trail to a scenic site for lunch, remember to make the effort to do it. Some of my fondest memories from my six-week adventure were off the actual trail. And having a fun crew to enjoy the beautiful scenery with enriched the experience even more.

6. The Trail Provides


Whether it be leukotape for a blister, or a hitch into town, the trail provides. The trail has you covered for a  panty liner for your way too early monthly cycle or a ride to a bus station. The trail continually amazed me when I encountered almost everything I needed at the right time. And, there is no way you could plan for it, you simply had to allow it. A hiker introduced me to leukotape when I first had some blisters forming and it prevented future blister problems. Five of us caught a hitch from a Winnebago into town. Someone I hiked with for a week had a friend picking him up from the trail exactly where and when I needed to catch a bus to Boston.

Summarizing the Lessons and Magic of the Trail


So, while trail magic is amazing, the actual magic of the trail includes the experiences that it provides. There is something so incredibly special about being completely present and open to whatever experience may come and then having that be something amazing. And, I suppose that is how life can unfold when we allow it.

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Comments 5

  • Avatar
    pearwood : Feb 17th

    Heather,
    Good stuff. Thanks! When I hit the trail next year I expect I will start with a bit more than I need and figure it out as I go. I’ve collected a lot of old friends over the decades and they all want to go along. Some of them will, but not all!
    Blessings,
    Steve

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Pritch : Feb 17th

    Great read, thanks for sharing! Do you have plans to try and finish the trail?

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Heather : Feb 18th

      I Will start my NOBO Thru-Hike un April

      Reply
  • Avatar
    FredT4 : Feb 18th

    “Diet restrictions are no longer relevant”.

    I posted a similar comment in 2012 after my 2011 AT Thru-hike. Got plenty of complaints, but the point was still true. Guess section hikers just couldn’t take the stress. If you’re a thru-hiker you don’t worry about food calorie intake limits, you only worry about the next meal.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Gizmo (from Colorado) : Feb 21st

    Great read. Right on the mark. Good luck on your thru-hike, from a fellow LASHer. (I did 700 miles of the AT in 2018 — James River Foot Bridge to Kent CT)

    Reply

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