Week 1 on the AT: Things You Should Know
Well here I am, back to civilization in the small German town of Helen, GA. When I say back to civilization of course I’m referring to the Super 8 Motel which feels like the damn Ritz-Carlton. Today marked day 6 on the Trail (yes today was my first real shower since we started, and yes it was glorious). Here are a couple of things I’ve learned the last few days:
1. Distances are deceiving. At least they were for me. I was in relatively decent shape before setting out on the Trail, walking the 3 mile roundtrip walk to work nearly everyday. Out here it is so difficult to judge distance; sometimes I think I’ve gone 3 miles and I’ve really only gone one. Staying in the right mindset and taking it easy on yourself is really important until you’re fully conditioned and get comfortable with your pace.
2. It’s ok to not have a trailname at first. For those of you who don’t know, trail names are a thing. Some people I’ve met so far on the Trail are Scribbles, Serbert, Gadget, Uphill and Cyclops. My hiking partner Matthew just got his this week: Eastside. Most of the time these nicknames have absolutely nothing to do with what your first assumption would be. When you come across people on the Trail the conversation usually consists of a combination of a couple of questions; what’s your name? (the point when you have to tell them your real name and say “I don’t have a trailname yet”) are you thru-hiking or section hiking? when did you start? where did you stay last night? where are you staying tonight? Everyone is incredibly friendly and some will be eager to help you determine your trailname.
3. Don’t count on having cell phone reception. Between Eastside and myself we have Verizon, AT&T and Sprint mobile phones with us. He claims Verizon is better than his Sprint signal out here. Between AT&T and Verizon I can’t say which has better reception but we can typically get a signal near the shelters and sporadically in between. This is just the first 50 miles or so and signals will most likely change as we head north. If you’re using your phone as your camera as well it’s probly best to leave it off anyway until you want to take pics or call loved ones to save your battery.
4. Ditch all the unnecessary weight you can before take-off. This probably goes without saying, but no, seriously. That 30 pounds may seems nice and manageable in your kitchen before you launch, but after you pack in all your food and water and any other last minute additions, now that baby weighs around 40 pounds and after 10+ miles on the Trail, your knees and feet will pay the price. That’s what happened with me the first few days, when I got to Neel Gap (around day 4) my pack was more than 25% of my body weight, which is not recommended, so I took the opportunity to mail some things back. Unfortunately for many others, (I hear over 20% of people who attempt a thru-hike) by the time they get to Neel Gap it’s too late and they retire their hiking boots (by literally throwing them in a tree at the Mountain Crossing Outfitter there).
5. Be careful venturing around at night. We learned this one last night. Eastside had returned to the tent from dropping a duece in the woods, and after awhile asked if I had seen his phone around, I hadn’t. He looked around for a few before concluding it must have dropped out while he was having a dump, so we got our layers back on and with our headlamps and flashlight went searching for the missing device. We go up the Trail to about where he thought he had done his business and we hear something rather large walking around in the woods very near where we were standing. We both agree, eff this mission, let’s get back to camp. We start walking as quickly/calmly as we can for about 100 feet or so and stop to listen and we still hear it walking adjacent to us in the woods. This continues a couple more times until we finally get back to the tent terrified. We never did get a look at what is was, my guess was a coyote (or coyotes). The lesson here is just be careful wandering too far off, especially at night.
6. Trail magic is real! The first trail magic we encountered was at Gooch Gap where a bunch of former thru-hikers were posted up with cases of beer, hot dogs and water with a fire going. It was quite the setup, and after a long day of hiking, nothing could be better. The next morning the good people who have started the AT Yearbook (check them out on Facebook) served up some hot chocolate. A few miles down the Trial at Woody Gap there was a group of 4 lovely ladies handing out hotdogs, chips, soda, cookies and tootsie rolls. These people are f^cking amazing. They can make a pretty rough day turn around in a hurry. I wouldn’t expect so much trail magic to happen on the first week for everyone, but I’m super grateful to these people.
7. Be flexible. I had a tentative schedule planned out for the hike, which for the most part we’ve been sticking to, but we’ve had to go off schedule a couple of times. Obviously listening to your body is very important, maybe you wanted to start out doing 12-15 mile days and you decide 8-10 is better once you get going. One issue we ran into was about a 7 mile stretch where bear cannisters were required (usually tying your food up in a tree will suffice) or they were handing out some pretty hefty fines. Instead of hiking 15 miles in one day (which included going over Blood Mountain) to avoid staying the night in that section, we split it into two days. Another change of plan happened today when we woke up to wind, rain and low 40 degree temperatures (which can quickly lead to hypothermia if you don’t stay dry). Weeell my rain gear wasn’t as great as I thought it was (bonus tip: basically nothing is waterproof after 6 hours in the rain). So we decided after 10 miles it probably wasn’t the best idea to set up our already wet gear in these conditions, so we decided to come into town for warmth, shower, food and as a general morale booster.
With all of that in mind, I’m so glad I’m out here and having a blast so far!! Best of luck to those coming out!
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