Week 5: You’ve Got Questions, I’ve Got Answers

After a pleasant couple of days in Hot Springs, I returned back to the trail for the 70 miles to Erwin, TN. The weather has been beautiful which has made for pleasant hiking. I also hit the 300 mile mark. Unfortunately the dryness has led to several forest fires along the trail including outside Hot Springs. Trail rumor is that they’ve evacuated the trail and you can’t really get in or out of Hot Springs. They’re camping people behind the Dollar General. Guess I left in the nick of time.

Hot Springs on fire (image borrowed from facebook)

Now for great views from the trail.

Balds are my fave

Lunch time on Big Bald

Wednesday saw my biggest mileage day of 20.6 miles in order to be in town in time for the AYCE pizza buffet in town. Let me tell you, it was glorious and both disgusting. 6 plates. 3 Dr. Pepper’s.

Rushing down the mountain in search of pizza #priorities

However, getting to the core of this post:

You’ve Got Questions, I’ve Got Answers

I asked my fans (aka Facebook friends) of questions they were wondering about the trail or my experiences (begcause one month in I’m totes an expert). I couldn’t answer all the questions, I got a lot, but here are some I thought were most relevant. Also keep in mind, this is one girl’s experiences. I am a little biased.

The poop question. Where do you poop? Do you have to dig a hole? What’s the bathroom experience like?

This seems to be “the” question. For an answer, most shelters have privys. So essentially you have a toilet approximately every 8 or so miles… Sometimes less, sometimes more. Not all do, for instance some shelters in the Smokies have poop trails, which is essentially what it sounds like. It’s a side of a hill that has tp all over the ground from where other hikers have done their business. The fear is either stepping in someone’s “doo” because they couldn’t be bothered with digging a cathole, or digging up a cathole by accident.

This is a luxury privy. Clean, spacious, AND with a door.

State parks (supposedly) are required to have handicap accesible bathrooms

If you don’t  privy it up, you go in the woods. They ask you go at least 80 steps from the trail, water source, and camping and dig a 6-8 inch hole. You find a nice log or rock and do your business. I carry a nice poop trowel. Some people claim to just use their trekking poles. I blame them for the tp on the trail. It’s hard enough digging a 6 inch hole with a trowel. I can only imagine the futility of trying to do that with a trekking pole. Seems irresponsible to me considering you can get poop trowels that are under 2 oz.

In the month I’ve been out here, I think I’ve pooped in the woods 3 times? Frankly finding a good poop spot is a hassle, so it’s easier to brown blaze it up. Also in the Smokies I was terrified to use the poop trails so I’d just hold it. As for peeing, I just squat behind a tree and do my business and wipe with a bandana I designated as a pee rag. It’s gross but gets the job done.

Where do you sleep? Is it scary sleeping in the woods/your tent alone? Have you ever actually been afraid?

I typically sleep in a tent. My Big Agnes FlyCreek UL1 is a small tent, weighing in under 2lbs. It’s great for me since I’m smaller, but I know big guys that sleep in one.

Me and all my stuff (ignore the dirty feet, hazards of the trail)

However like I said before, there are shelters approximately every 8 or so miles that are essentially 3-sided buildings.

Shelter in the Smokies

No Business Shelter right before Erwin

The shelters are great if you don’t want to put up your tent or it’s raining. However they’re mice-infested. So you win some, and you lose some. I have this irrational fear of a mouse running across my face so I tend to avoid staying in shelter. Typically there are so many people staying in, or camping near shelters, that it’s not like you’re alone at night. Really you’re never alone in the woods. While it may seem like it, sit 30 mins on the trail and at least someone will walk by.

However, have I been really scared? Not really. One night I kept hearing rustling in my pack. This was after a rain and my stamps were soaked and sweet smelling. I was convinced a mouse was in my pack eating my money because that’s where my stamps were. I spent all night worried about how I would explain that to the bank in Hot Springs. “Here’s my mouse-chewed $50.” However, I actually never checked outside. When I woke up the next morning my money was actually in my tent. I don’t know what the sound was. Maybe it was a mouse. Ignorance is bliss.

How do you eat?

I pick up food in town and then have a JetBoil which is essentially a stove that boils water really fast. Food that requires only hot water or no cooking is essentially my diet.
If you were stranded on an island and only had one trail meal to bring with you, what would it be?

Annie’s Shells and Cheese is my jam. I’m convinced it’s more filling than regular mac & cheese. That and a side of dried peaches and maybe a cold Coke or G2 or maybe both. I realize I’m being a little unrealistic with the cold part but when will I be on a stranded island?

Is it possible to hike the AT with a dog?

Yes, but it seems to be a lot of work and require a lot of planning. It’s hard enough hiking and taking care of yourself, let alone another being. Initially there were a lot of dogs on the trail. Now that I’m 300 miles in, that number has decreased significantly. I think part of this has to do with hikers poorly planning and their dog’s not being able to handle the trail. Talk to your vet beforehand. It seems really unfair to the dogs who’s owners didn’t do the research. Also some dogs (especially poorly behaved dogs) aren’t meant for the trail.

How much did you bag weigh initially? How much does it weigh now?

I’m a fan of the ignorance is bliss philosophy. I know base weight my pack weighed around 18lbs but haven’t actually weighed it. I haven’t cut anything except a fleece and I’ve added a pair of socks and a tank. If I were to do my gear over again, I’d get a lighter weight sleeping pad and a different bag. I may switch out at some point. I may not.

Are you sick of wearing the same outfit day after day?

YES! Initially packing I bought clothes based on utility and cost, not actually whether I liked wearing them. I’ve done some serious online shopping and am switching some clothes out in Damascus. Yes, my convertible hiking pants are utilitarian. No, they aren’t flattering. A month later I almost hate them.


Over this outfit

What’s the male to female ratio?

3:1? There are more women than I was expecting. Also in general hikers are older than expected (excluding retirees). I’m on the young end of hikers.

If you had one thing to tell other young girls, what would it be?

If there’s something you want to do, go do it. Don’t let others get in the way. When preparing for my hike, one of the things I hated the most is people saying, “I would never let my do that.” The world can be a dangerous place wherever you are. Walmart at night is more dangerous than the trail. However, this can apply to anything. Do what you want to do. Don’t let others tell you what you can, especially because you’re a girl. Things have a way of working out.

Also if you’re a person who finds yourself making limiting statements about the young women around you. Stop! It’s hard enough figuring out who you are and what you want to do without, people telling you what you can’t.

What has been the hardest part of the trail so far?

Nothing has been overwhelmingly hard, like sit down and cry hard. When something is hard, it’s usually counteracted by something pleasant. I tend to have a short memory. One day I wanted to lay in the trail and die. My back hurt, my feet hurt, my legs hurt. Shortly after I was rewarded with an icy cold Coke and Cheetos. Up’s and downs of trail life. However, two things that I have found particularly rough:

  1. The cold. Going to bed cold. Being cold all night. And then waking up knowing it would be cold. Really that exiting the tent cold is the worst. I don’t like cold.
  2. Social aspects. There are so many wonderful people on this trail. However, to meet these wonderful people you have to talk to each of them. It’s like the first day of high school day after day. I have some social anxiety and struggle with small talk (they called my Awkward Bybee in college for a reason). When you’re on the trail you see the same 10 or so people each day but in town this is amplified. Some hikers seem to fall into cliques. As a girl, I could probably crash but then I don’t know what to say so it escalates. I talked about how the trail would be a growth experience. I wasn’t expecting it to be socially.

    Campfire… Hiker TV

What do you miss the most?

Real dinner, like spaghetti or whatever. You eat trail food and you eat restaraunt food. Nothing in between. That and clean hands.

How much did you save for this trip? How much have you spent?

Truthfully, I didn’t do a whole lot of specific saving for this trip. I’m a saver and have enough funds to typically get through. Also I’m super fortunate in that my parents have been very supportive of the hike. They’re financial help is great.

As for the amount I’ve spent, I’m not sure. I try to be somewhat thrifty but the hiker hunger calls. I spent about $1300 in gear prior to the trail.

Are you working on your thesis?

Ha! What thesis? Oh yeah… That one. Technically I’m still waiting for revisions from my advisor, but I probably wouldn’t be doing anything with it even if I had it back.

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Comments 13

  • TBR : Apr 22nd

    Great post, especially the part about people saying don’t do it, and your encouragement … to ignore them! Yes, indeed.

    Clean hands — no kidding!

    Look forward to more trail wisdom.

  • Julie : Apr 22nd

    You really gave some thought and insight to my questions. Loving it- Loving you. Is the Pacific Trail next?

    • Molly Bybee : Apr 22nd

      We’ll see. I’m just taking it one day at a time.

  • patrick : Apr 23rd

    Gah the clique thing would make me nuts. That and everyone having a selfie stick and filming everything (but I still watch the videos OMG I AM THE PROBLEM).

    • Kris Bybee : May 1st

      Me too…

  • Steve : Apr 24th

    Another great post! Awkward huh? I never got that vibe from you. BTW….love the pics;)

  • Jimmy : Apr 26th

    You are amazing!! My daughters (5 & 10) look forward to your posts each week and when you wrote “Don’t let others tell you what you can, especially because you’re a girl. Things have a way of working out.” my girls got on a girl power trip which was filled with a lot cheering and laughter.

    • Molly Bybee : Apr 30th

      I’m glad I could facilitate this moment with you and your girls. Your daughters are one lucky girls.

  • Robert Hetherington : May 3rd

    Enjoyed your post. I am 61 years old and would like to thru hike the AT some day

  • Patti. Morris : May 4th

    Thank you! I will be following your adventure. Great honest answers to the questions. I am 47 and would love to hike the AT someday, potentially with my husband. For now I will live through your post. Haha, love your pics also. We live in Massachusetts and a home in NH. If you need anything on your hike email me. I would be happy to be there for you!
    Good Luck!

  • Linda Bybee Barraclough : May 5th

    Hi Molly, I’ve really enjoyed your blog. Pretty awesome! My husband and I plan on hiking the AT next year. Binge watching youtube videos about the AT. It’s cool they are constantly posting new ones everyday. Getting gear and getting excited. Also, I wonder if we are related as my maiden name is Bybee. My grandparents (Bybee’s) lived in Hamilton Ohio.

    • Molly Bybee : May 6th

      As far as I know my relatives are all from Southern MO, but it’s not like there are that many Bybee’s floating around out there. So maybe!

  • retired Naugatuck firefighter, Tim Andrew : May 7th

    Very, very nice post….hope to do it 2017 for: Make A Wish


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