Smells, Backpacks, and Wildlife of the AT

What you are about to read really happened as it happened.

The AT, it’s what we call the AT out here on the AT, (in places far from the trail others refer to it as the Appalachian Trail) has surpassed every expectation I had. After 1,100 miles (unbelievable right?), I am still amazed at the things I see and people I meet.

I want to share some of the things the trail has surprised me with and I didn’t read or research about before. Every day I learn a new lesson, with every step I grow.

First off, let’s talk about feet. They are so dirty. One would think thru-hikers walk barefoot. I read countless reviews on the best trail shoe. Don’t believe everything you read. All shoes get your feet dirty. No matter what you do, new or old shoes. The bottoms of your feet turn black.

Oh, and one more thing about feet, toes, and blisters, to be exact. I was told to carry a small first aid pouch with mostly blister treatment products. I have been fortunate to not have any blisters (except in the first few weeks). What is a problem is keeping my toenails on. When the first one came off it was cute. The scabbed nailbed looked like I had painted them. But after a week of rain the dried blood wore off and now my feet look like Elmer Fudd without eyes.

Preparing for the trail and on the trail, it was/is all about pack weight. It’s probably the second most talked about topic around the Frito-fueled fire (unconfirmed statistic). I had no idea how heavy my pack was until climbing some of these hills. At home it weighed in at 37 pounds but out here we don’t have scales. After lifting everyone else’s pack and hearing what they think their own pack weighs, I might add five or ten more to be conservative. It probably is 18 pounds with snacks and a water. I use UL (ultralight) water whenever I find it. One hiker sends himself dehydrated water. Bags that seem empty but once he adds water, and viola, water appears. I think they run $10 a bag.

The hiker smell isn’t that bad. The other day we hiked through some muddy trails along a river with a water treatment plant nearby, then we walked through a cow pasture and had fun kicking these little piles of sludge. Because I am in a hammock I get to air out myself. My pack, however, has to be on the ground uncovered from the conditions. I can’t remember when it was dry last. Showering is no problem cause it rains just about every day, at least 30% chance. With all that in consideration everyone doesn’t smell that bad compared to me. Other thru-hikers smell pretty good.

Trail magic is amazing. And it happens all the time. The trail angels may be one of the best, most beautiful parts of this experience. The kindness one finds out here is unlike anywhere else on the planet. I had read about times when past hikers came across boxes left at trailheads with notes of encouragement. I sleep in most days and hike late so I am the last into the campsite. At every shelter, excluding a very few, bags of food are hanging everywhere. Most are filled with with candy but plenty have enough to make meals. I only grab a thing or two because you should always leave some for the hikers still to come. Thank you, thank you, thank you to trail angels.

When dreaming of this wonderful experience I hoped to see wildlife. Growing up just outside the suburbs of DC, you only see animals that will end up in restaurants and grocery stores. In the wild they are running around like wild animals. The Discovery channel should be filmed out here. Just the other day I opened my sleeping bag after chillin’ at Tom Tom. (We drop shelter from their names now because it is implied.)

Anyway, what was I saying, right Skettles. In my sleeping bag on my way to Z town, at least ten millipedes averaging five inches long at least. In the morning I sometimes am the first to leave and I walk through so many spider webs I can’t even see the other animals caught in the webs, but I can taste them. Just today I had a herd of gnats following me for about four hours. It’s so cute how they stay behind and follow me. When I stop they stop and fly around my head. I tried hanging a fly catcher ribbon off my pack until a fellow hiker reminded of LNT. I thanked that hiker because LNT prohibits killing wildlife. That same hiker was wearing a STICKS shirt from Trail Days. Save the ticks and donate your blood.

After the sun goes down, the freaks come out at night. The smallest, furriest owls screech like someone is being murdered. Deer run through camp like it’s the running of the bulls. And bears flip over every rock around the fire pits. Don’t worry, all hikers are armed with a headlamp so if anything gets to close we flash our high beams at an approaching animal to find out there are ten more than you thought. If it’s not the blinding light, it’s my heart jumping out of my chest that scares them away.

I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but here with my fellow hikers. I mean if we were, those around us would have to wear gas masks to look at the fungus growing between my toes while watching our re-enactments of the animals not in a zoo as our teeth fall out of our mouths from all the cavities.

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