From Zeros to Heroes – And the Neros in Between. Free Time Management on the AT
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Later that day, waterfront director Gaby supervised us on to the lake, where we canoed and had a swim.
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!
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.
The cabin was nestled in the hills of Cornwall, CT, and was one of the most restful zeros of our trip.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We all rested up, switched out our summer gear for cold weather gear, and headed back to the trail, bonded and refreshed.
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.
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.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.