The Appalachian Q&A with Tom and Shannon
I just ran out of deodorant and I have have 4 days before leaving for Baxter State park to start my southbound hike. My mind has been a mess of anxiety, stress and excitement for weeks now, but today all I’m thinking is, “is it worth it to go buy deodorant?”
Is it worth it to go buy deodorant when I’ll be leaving so soon? I’m gonna smell anyway. I’m gonna reek, actually, and no amount of deodorant can solve that problem even if I brought it. Though maybe I’ll waste the money just to fend off the stink up till the last minute before leaving, I don’t know…
I do know that it’s a waste of space and weight to bring it on the trail, though, and I’ve had to explain this very reason many times of the past few weeks. Between my girlfriend, Shannon, and I we’ve had to become robots of methodical answers to the repetitive questions posed by the family and friends who don’t understand the ways of a thru hiker. While it’s completely understandable that everyone has questions about how thru hiking works, answering the same questions all day can get pretty draining. All the same, it feels great that people are taking an interest in this major adventure we are embarking on, though not everyone can or will be as understanding.
So let’s answer these questions once and for all so we never have to answer them again!*
Q: Sooo…What is the Appalachian Trail?
A: Really? Okay.. so the A.T is a national scenic hiking trail that goes from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine, approximately 2,200 miles. It’s a long hike. One which we’re going South on, instead of the usual Northern journey.
Q: Are you going to bring a gun?!
A: …no. Actually, hell no! Besides the added weight to our packs and the regulations in place that may prevent someone from carrying a gun across 14 states legally…we don’t expect any situations where having a gun would help out much.
Q: What are you going to eat?
A: Food. Lots of food. Copious amounts of anything we can get our trashy hiker hands on! Seriously though, Oatmeal and Knorr sides are what we have planned so far. Anything that can be cooked by boiling water, along with lots of snacks – including clif bars, trail mix, and protein bars.
It’ll change along the way as we get sick of eating the same things and we’ll undoubtedly revise our meal choices many times over. We’re going the unplanned route and really have no food drops planned (for those who don’t know, you can mail packages to yourself along the way to resupply). It just seems like too much unneeded stress trying to be at a certain place by a certain day or time, when we’ll (hopefully) just be able to go into town and buy what we need.
Q: How are you going to shower?
A: Well… we’re not. That’s not to say we’ll never shower for the entire length of the trail, but it won’t be a common occurrence anymore. While we’re on the subject were also not going to be washing our clothes that often either. Really what we’ll be doing is rinsing and washing up both ourselves and our clothes in rivers or lakes and then if we decide to stay in a town we may have chances to shower, along with if any campsites happen to have shower facilities. Thru hiker etiquette is to embrace the stink.
Q: How many miles are you going to walk in a day? 3 or 4, right?
A: If anyone did that few miles in a day it would take them about a year to finish. We’re planning to start at 10 miles a day and then slowly increase over the period of a couple weeks. After 2 weeks or so your body (supposedly) gets used to the strain of it all, which leads to more miles. That being said, we’re going southbound, so Maine is going to be slow and the White Mountains of New Hampshire will definitely slow us down. Once out of there, we should be able to pick up the pace.
Q: What about Bears? How will you deal with them?
A: We’re going to invite them to join us for a nice picnic lunch..
In all seriousness, bears and other animals should be treated with the utmost respect in any situation you come across them in the wild. It can be easy to forget, but you are in THEIR homes and should respect it as such. We plan to be as safe as possible, hanging a bear bag away from our campsite each night. During the day, it’s good practice to make lots of noise or use a bear bell to deter any bears in the area. If we DO have a run in with a bear, we will make ourselves big and yell/shout to try to scare it off. Black bears are not looking for trouble and most likely will scare off.
Q: How many pairs of clothes are you bringing?
A: 3..ish? Okay, so we have our camp clothes which will only be worn at night, not for hiking. Then we each have a pair of hiking pants, a pair of running shorts, 2 pair of hiking socks (1 pair for camp), two base layer shirts, a mid layer and insulating layer.
Q: You are going together? This is going to be a real test of your relationship..
A: WOW! We never thought about the fact that hiking 2000 miles with your significant other would put your relationship to a test! Maybe we should rethink our plans… Okay, pent up annoyance aside, yeah.. we know. We’ve thought about it, we’ve talked about it and we are STILL excited! This has been my dream for a while and I honestly wouldn’t have thought to even attempt it this year or even the next without her. She gives me confidence and the strength to set goals and achieve my dreams. I hope I inspire her in the same ways. We know this adventure will bring its struggles and will test us, but we both accept this as a challenge. If (or should I say when?) we complete the trail we’ll be stronger for it. If not then that’s okay and we’ll be better for it.We’d much rather test our relationship this way than spend years with each other only to find out down the line, when truly tested by something else, that it won’t work out. Bill Murray once gave advice to a man at his bachelor party, saying –
If you have someone that you think is The One, don’t do… don’t just sort of think in your ordinary mind, ‘Okay, let’s make a date. Let’s plan this and make a party and get married.’ Take that person and travel around the world. Buy a plane ticket for the two of you to travel all around the world, and go to places that are hard to go to and hard to get out of. And if when you come back to JFK, when you land in JFK, and you’re still in love with that person, get married at the airport.”
– and while it may not be the same scenario, hiking 2000 miles is just as big of a step. So yes, it is a test of our relationship. One that we’re excited for!
Q: Are you nervous or scared?
A: Ever hear of anxiety? Pre-Trail Anxiety? The continuous barrage of confidence sucking thoughts that eat away at you at night? Yeah.. I’m nervous. She’s nervous. My mom’s nervous… It is a huge undertaking to fit your entire life into a backpack and leave behind all that you know for the unexplainable desire to hike for months on end, through all weather conditions, and for no other reason than the experience. That’s the thing though.. all that nervousness and anxiety and fright… is just because it is an unknown experience. Like moving to a new town, or starting a new job. It seems scary and you’re reluctant to do so, but it can and will lead to great things. I try to think positive at all these times of doubt because in the end, it is my decision to do this. I want this experience. I want to travel. I want adventure. I want to hike! It may present dangers, it may be scary, and it may even suck at times. That’s life though. You have to step out of your comfort zone every so often to truly appreciate the life you have.
*These are our answers and not necessarily completely correct. Plans will change and we’re not always right. This is just based off our research into it and personal choices.
Disclaimer to family and friends:
While it may seem like our responses come from an agitated and resentful place, we in all sincerity LOVE the fact that so many people are curious about the hike. I love it so much I’m going to try and keep the updates going once we’re on the trail so everyone can get a glimpse into our adventure! That all being said, Shannon and I feel exhausted after every family gathering or other social event in which we have to regurgitate the same answers to the point of monotony. Next time we’ll hold a Q&A press conference to get it out of the way. We’re not mad or annoyed with anyone, just not used to being the center of attention and having to answer the same questions over and over. It’s not you, it’s us.
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