From Zeros to Heroes – And the Neros in Between. Free Time Management on the AT

Goal-Oriented Hikers

The goal of a thru-hiker is simple: to reach the end of their thru-hike. How the end is reached varies with each individual; budget, time constraints, or physical challenges require hikers to manage their time appropriately. As the miles pile up, so too does the desire to rest and relax. The lure of town quickly drives up the costs of hiking, and too little rest can lead to injury. Meanwhile, a select few hikers are fortunate in that they can enjoy the full experience with very few worries.

The ever-changing trail.

Unfortunately, I fall into the time-constraint category.

Time Constraint of the International Hiker

Despite being a proud British citizen, I am limited to six months on a hike typically budgeted for five to seven months. In our tramily—The Sauce—Plume and Onkel Felix are also on a six-month time constraint as international hikers.

The Sauce after a glorious time at Sunrise’s family cabin.

Regardless of our specific needs as international hikers, the rest of the tramily members share a similar end date of Sept. 9. While some must return to work, others want only to return to their lives. This means we have to plan our mileage and rest time accordingly.

What Are Neros, Zeros, and Heroes Anyway?

Zero: A day where no miles are walked on trail; this can be spent in towns, hostels, or at a cool spot by a lake.

Chilling at Old Orchard Beach.

Nero: Usually before or after visiting a town, when a limited number of miles are walked. Once you have gotten into the swing of hiking, anything less than ten miles could be a nero (although some believe anything less than 15 is a nero).

Breakfast after two trail miles to Hanover, NH.

Hero: When a hiker enters town to resupply, eat food, run errands, and then hikes on to avoid spending too much time and/or money.

Heroes usually involve lots of time in trucks to and from trail.

The Staple of Neros

We generally do neros so we can enjoy laundry and real beds, though this often leaves little rest time. When you’ve been hiking long days, rest is crucial. The Sauce has had several zeros that felt truly earned through long, hard weeks without rest.

The rest of this article will talk about those wonderful days.

Zero One – New Jersey, Summer Camp

I worked for eight summers at Camp Vacamas, a sleepaway camp where I first became interested in hiking and the AT. I am still very close with many staff there, and my younger sister is currently working her fourth summer on the staff team.

Outside Camp Vacamas in 2015.

While I knew I was going to visit camp. I didn’t know I’d have such a large tramily in tow. Regardless, camp staff were gracious enough to put us up.

We were picked up from the trailhead and resupplied on route to camp. We then geared up with my old pal Myron, who runs the teen outdoor programs. Myron showed us the ropes, literally.

Myron belaying for Margarita on the high ropes course.

We spent the afternoon practicing the high ropes course, climbing our way through what we had thought was going to be a day of rest.

Rubber Ducky descending the climbing wall after reaching the top.

Later that day, waterfront director Gaby supervised us on to the lake, where we canoed and had a swim.

Banter and Onkel Felix enjoying the lake.

That evening we relaxed and ate Chinese takeout as a tramily. It wasn’t the most restful day, but the activities were stellar! Most importantly, I was able to see my sister and introduce my tramily to my summer camp family!

Summer camp family including Myron, Dani, Gaby, Bea (my sister), and Michelle

Zero Two – Connecticut, Sunrise’s Family Cabin

Sunrise and I formed a tramily at Big Bald, NC, and hiked together until she made the decision to get off trail at Harpers Ferry. She suffered a lot of pain from Achilles tendonitis and neuromas, though she always stayed positive. Before parting ways, she invited us to stay at her family cabin when we passed through Connecticut.

Our last day hiking with Sunrise before she got off trail to rehab her feet.

The cabin was nestled in the hills of Cornwall, CT, and was one of the most restful zeros of our trip.

Bubbles living her best life at the lake in Cornwall, CT.

Not only was the setting beautiful, but we relaxed at the nearby lake, ate family-style meals on the deck, and relaxed in the cool den watching the latest season of Queer Eye. Hiking makes you very emotional and we all shed tears to that.

Family-style spaghetti dinner after a day of chilling.

We enjoyed ourselves so much that we even managed to slack the next day to stay another night.

This wasn’t only great for our bodies and our well-being, but it was an amazing chance to spend more time with Sunrise.

Sunrise, Nightingale, and Rubber Ducky enjoying the water at the falls in CT.

Zero Three – New Hampshire, OB’s Beach Weekend

OB had been planning to go home to Saco, ME, since the trail started for a beach weekend. Having gained a large tramily, his mom and stepdad organized a large van to pick us up on the southern base of Mount Moosilauke. Our bodies needed time to rest before this next challenge.

Excited tramily on route to Beach Weekend.

We set up camp in the garden and had a cookout that first evening. We ran errands and spent the evening relaxing around the campfire.

Clementine giving her best hipster around the campfire vibes.

The next day the real fun began with a trip to the beach. Old Orchard Beach is in OB’s town, and is a popular spot for Canadian holiday makers and New Englanders alike. There is a plentiful array of shops, restaurants, and a pier with attractions.

Margarita, OB, Rubber Ducky, Sunrise, and Plume together after relaxing at the beach.

The group spent several hours relaxing under the sun, reading in the shade, and splashing in the somewhat freezing water.

In the evening, I tagged along with OB and his mom and sister to a Guster concert in Portland. It was a perfect night spent off trail; the music was fantastic, the weather was great, and the vegan food truck was incredible.

Guster on the waterfront in Portland, ME.

We all rested up, switched out our summer gear for cold weather gear, and headed back to the trail, bonded and refreshed.

Most of the tramily as we summited Moosilauke.

Taking Time Away from the Trail

The trail is wonderful for the social experience, the physical activity, the stunning nature, and the simple lifestyle. That said, it blurs together and is often hard to appreciate so far into the journey. These days off allowed us to step away and enjoy something else so that we could return with spirits invigorated.

The scenery can become repetitive and is not always appreciated.

We are now just over 300 miles from the end of our adventure, having recently summited Mount Washington. We are determined, but we still take zeros to augment our experience. The trail exists for enjoyment, and zeros are there to help hikers do so.

OB and me at the summit of Mount Washington.

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Comments 3

  • Shocktop : Aug 21st

    I’m smiling reading this post, so much good feeling and just chilling w friends, sometimes it gets lost in the hustle. Happy trails!

    • Aidan Tierney : Sep 11th

      The friends are what make it so special!

  • emsccmith : Feb 26th

    hank you so much for this. I was into this is sue and tired to tinker around to check if its possible but couldnt get it done. Now that i have seen the way you did it, thanks guys


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