A lifetime of dreaming, a year of planning and months of training were safely tucked in my back pocket the day I started my flip flop hike of the Appalachian Trail on May 2, 2016 in Harpers Ferry, WV.
I read ‘Appalachian Trials’ (the holy bible for A.T. hikers), poured through The A.T. Thru HIker’s Companion and joined every A.T. hiking Facebook page I could find. After only a few days on the trail I realized that a 2,200 mile hike is much like having your first baby; no matter how much you want one, how much you research and how often you talk to friends who have one, absolutely nothing can completely prepare you for what awaits you on the trail. Dreams are fulfilled and dreams are shattered, sometimes in the same day.
Being a life-long hiker and camper, I was raised to explore and respect the outdoors. Many woodsy visits fill my travel journal and nothing quite describes the glory of getting ‘lost’ within the sights, sounds, smells and souls of the trail. However, as beautiful as the boonies are, Madre Tierra can turn ugly and has little cause to treat you gently if she doesn’t feel like it. In a heartbeat, she will chew you up and spit you out like a plug of Red Man Chew if you’re not careful and prepared.
For my trek, it turns out that with Momma Natures’ occasional lack of humor and a few newbie mistakes, I found myself learning (and relearning) valuable lessons that will stick with me like a tick in New Jersey.
- Lower mileage – With the vision of Katahdin dancing in my head, I headed along the C&O towpath outside of Harpers Ferry with unreasonable mileage for the early stages of the hike. The phrases ‘It’s a marathon, not a sprint’, ‘Slow and steady wins the race’ and ‘Patience, grasshopper’ will be my next tattoo purchases to remind me to chill out.
- Drink more water- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. I’m mean, really.
- Eat!- ‘Why stop for lunch when I can get to my sleeping bag that much quicker’? You can’t pour from an empty cup. I’ll make a note of it.
- ZZZZZ- People snore. Most nights I found myself in a shelter fighting the cacophony of the A.T. Snore Choir on it’s summer tour. Even though I held a conductor’s position in the middle of the ensemble, none of them followed my gestures to decrescendo. Camping at a shelter is never considered antisocial.
- Rain, Rain, Go Away- You’re outside. It will rain. A lot. The first two weeks saw me splashing along the trail like a puppy in a puddle. My 3 oz. rain jacket and 4 oz. pack cover went a long way to keep things dry but my boots acted like a sieve. Never underestimate the power of dry socks.
- Life Lesson- I’m around 5’2″ but only if i’m feeling ‘sassy’ that day. The trail name ‘Too Damn Short’ seems apropos even though it’s more a statement of fact rather than a name. Regardless, stream crossings are inevitable on the trail and as I approached my first one, conveniently placed rocks appeared to make the dance upon the waters a no-brainier. Within 2 hops the distances between them were obviously calculated for hikers with much longer gams than mine and I hiked the rest of the day with one wet boot. Don’t walk in the footprints of others, make your own.