Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Reflections on our AT Hiking

Well, as you have probably noticed, we haven’t been hiking in the past few days.  Several reasons--primarily the heat, plus I think we just got a little burnt out.  We are going to move from here to Gorham, New Hampshire tomorrow so this seems like a good time to take a few minutes to reflect on the AT hiking adventure so far this summer.

For several years we have wanted to finish the Trail in Virginia.  Seemed like we hiked in Virginia for so long and could never get to the end.  With that goal in mind, we contemplated tentative plans for a summer on the AT.  When all the planning was finished and we were ready to start hiking, we set the goal--hike from Virginia route 614 to the Pennsylvania state line.  That seemed like a good stopping point.

One of the reasons it took us so long to get back to the Trail was sweet Peanut.  I wasn’t willing to leave him in a kennel for an extended time and there was just no one to keep him.  We finally remembered about a couple we had met several years ago who were day hiking and running a shuttle with just one car.  We thought that might work for us and investigated the logistics of a self supported shuttle.

Having done that for two and a half months and almost 400 trail miles, we are here to tell you that we like it.  Of course, there were some trade-offs, but overall, it was a positive experience.  Plus, we exceeded our goal by 37 miles and got a few miles in Connecticut to boot.

For the good things about it:
We didn’t have to carry those heavy backpacks.  Because of what we like to carry on a backpacking trip, it is almost impossible for us to get pack weight below 30 lbs.  With the day packs, even on days when we carried extra water, our packs only weighed about 10 lbs.  That’s a whole lot easier on the back, knees, and feet.

We got to eat real food--breakfast, lunch, and dinner--instead of “trail food”.  We could have fresh vegetables and fruit everyday.  Instead of a granola or power bar for lunch, we often had sandwiches.  Then there was that ice cold cola waiting in the truck every afternoon.

We set a schedule to hike two days and take a day off.  That worked out great.  Sore feet and muscles had a chance to recover before they could develop serious injury.

Perhaps the best part of all was the shower and clean cloths every day.  The laundry basket smelt pretty bad after a couple days, but we didn’t.  Well, at least not too badly.

Of course, there were the parts we didn’t like:
We put a lot of miles on the truck driving back and forth and spent a lot of time on the road.  We were up and out of the house early to try to get to the trail and get most of the miles done before the heat of the day.  When we were dog tired in the afternoon, we had a long drive home.  There were several days when we also scouted out the next parking lot so we could get there quickly the next morning.

I think the worst thing about hiking opposite each other was not getting to hike together.  Generally, I was comfortable hiking alone.  I quickly discovered that I liked hiking southbound rather than north.  By hiking south, I met lots of northbound hikers.  Gene would often not see anyone even though he was surrounded by others.  I enjoyed talking with these hikers and it really made me feel more comfortable knowing they were close at hand.  I think I can honestly say these hikers kept me going.  Even though I knew I was not alone, I still felt a little nervous.  The “what ifs” played heavily on my mind.  What if I fell and broke something; what if I couldn’t cross a stream or get up or down a large boulder; what if I got a snake bite; what if I had a heart attack?  Besides, I missed hiking with Gene.  Part of the fun of the hike is sharing it with someone.

In the plus/minus category was being with the trail community.  We really enjoyed meeting and talking with the thru-hikers.  We had several opportunities to do a little trail magic.  We loved all of that, but because we were just day hikers and didn’t socialize with these folks in the evenings at the shelters, we were really outside the group.

So, overall, we like this method of getting the miles done on the AT.  I don’t think we would do it on any other trail, but to cover the long distances on the AT without having to put Peanut in the kennel, this is a great way to go.

This is getting a little long, so I’ll stop here for today.  Tomorrow, I’ll lay out the plan for the next couple months.  The AT adventure is not over yet.  The best is yet to come.

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