Skinny Legs and Uncombed Hair — the Life of an AT Thru-hiker

So we were sitting in a cafe in Hanover, NH, eating breakfast this morning when I suddenly realized that not only had I not showered or washed my face, but it hadn’t even occurred to me to comb my hair. Clearly I’ve been living in the woods too long! Which made me think about how much our lives have changed during the 700+ miles that we’ve been on this trek. Here is a partial list:

Our legs have gotten skinnier. So skinny, in fact, that two women in Massachusetts kept marveling about how thin they are. (They’re full of scratches and bruises, too, but they kindly didn’t mention that.) I hope they meant it as a compliment.

We walk with the infamoushiker hobble,” a sort of bent over, mincing, shuffling gait common to thru hikers and people over 110. It’s worse when when we stop to rest because our knees completely freeze up. One example: we were in an Irish pub one night listening to music after several days of grueling hiking through the mountains in Vermont. John lurched so badly as he got up to cross the room that one of the musicians thought he was drunk. He called out to the bartender to “give the man another drink!” — then sang a rousing rendition of “What do you do with a drunken sailor.” (We saw him the following day and tried to explain.)


Coming across people wearing period costumes in the woods doesn’t faze us. Of course, since we are dressed in garbage bags, who are we to judge?

An unheated wooden cabin seems like the pinnacle of luxury when it rains— especially when it has a door!

It seems normal to eat food from a cooler left beside the road. Or get offers from strangers to come into their house and shower (and yes, we really do smell that bad).

Roads are a welcome sight after looking at trees for days on end. And if there’s a person on it, that’s an invitation to talk.

We measure our days in distance instead of time. We know exactly where to find more water. Doing laundry (in a machine) is actually fun.

And finally, we have more contact with animals than humans — whether it be listening to bird calls at 4am or fending off attention from some Jersey cows. Weird? You can decide. But at least we’re still having fun!

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Comments 8

  • Mary : Jun 9th

    Loving your posts. The question is if you noticed it was period costume.

    • Gail Barrett : Jun 9th

      Mary, I was more fixated on how much the clothes weighed and whether they would hold up in the rain! ?

  • Richard : Jun 10th

    Will miss you when your trek is over ! Look forward to and enjoy your posts. Maybe you’ll do PCT next year ?!

    • Gail Barrett : Jun 10th

      Thanks, Richard. This is our last hurrah. Maybe we’ll do the more sedate Camino next.

  • Bob : Jun 10th

    Great post Gail. I have skinny legs to start with, so I hope if I ever do the trail they will get bigger! Did John take the band member up on the drink? 🙂

    • Gail Barrett : Jun 13th

      Of course!?

  • Chaos & Master Chef : Jun 13th

    Gail & John, we are so happy to see you are still heading north! Way to go! Remember to have fun. We are rooting for you both!

    • Gail Barrett : Jun 14th

      Hi Chaos and Master Chef! We are still hiking, in a large part thanks to you. You caught me at a real low point and your pep talk really helped keep me going. In fact, I was thinking about your Long Trail story just the other day. So thanks again so much!


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