As I spread things around on the Interwebs, I have written a new article for The Trek (formerly Appalachian Trials). I talk about weight. Not the weight in my pack, but the weight I have packed on my body. Enjoy. The Weight Factor: Losing Weight on a Long Distance Hike Peace, EarthTone and LoGear
Life on the Trail Doing a long distance hike is a bit different from a day hike or weekend adventure. I like to think of it as continuous section hikes, one after the other. After a few days out there, your attitude changes. You start to feel comfortable out in the woods, even as you work through all your aches and pains.
What's it really like out there? One thing a long distance hike isn't is a simple walk in the woods. You are living out here. Everything you need is carried on your back. You are climbing mountains all day, every day. Your feet hurt. Your clothes and body stink. You may not be totally dry for several days in a row. It's not easy. It is a real challenge. The trick to success out there is to let all of this happen and still find a way to smile each day. The smile may only last a few seconds, or it may stretch into a huge belly laugh, but to find the good in the days hike and the people who are out there with you is important.
Eating and drinking Keeping yourself fueled and hydrated are super important. Carrying food that is light and easy to prepare helps. The longer you stay out there, the more food you will need. As you spend each day hiking, you use up all your calories quickly and start to lose weight. Your body actually eats itself. Keeping your calorie intake at the proper level will take more and more food as time goes on. I usually carry foodstuffs that only need for me to add boiling (or hot) water to make them a meal. If I'm only heating water in my pot and using freezer bags to prepare the food, then cleanup is a snap. The bag becomes my trash bag and the pot just needs to dry. I will also carry food that doesn't need cooking, like peanut butter and tuna. As you move along and your tastes change, you will try new things and keep trying to liven up your meals. When you hit town, you can eat huge meals that someone else has prepared and add fresh (and heavy) fruit and veggies to your diet. It all evens out. Water is also your most precious possession. Dehydration is no joke. If you don't treat the water you find along the trail, you may suffer the consequences. Giardia is pretty much everywhere. It comes from poop. Not just beaver poop, but also human poop. Having a filter or other form of treatment will lessen your chance of water borne illnesses. You must have water and it weighs a lot. One liter is 2.2 lbs. So, you find it along the way. I like to find springs that I can see coming out of the mountain. I sometimes don't treat when I see it coming out, but I'm not saying everyone (or anyone) should do that. That's just how I roll. I tell people it gives me a strong constitution. If your body gets used to the little critters, it can fight them better. At least that is what I tell myself. Luckily in today's informational world, you can know how far the next water source is, if you have a decent trail guide. The A.T. Guide or Thru Hiker's Companion will get you there. Sometime though, that water source is dry. You need to be able to plan ahead and I have learned, that is almost always a bad idea to pass up a water source. What I do when I come upon a good source and still have water, is I camel up. I drink all I have and fill up. I carry an extra empty 1 liter platypus for when I know I will be heading to a dry camp or an extended dry stretch. It's always nice to have the option of gathering extra water. Of course, you now have to carry it, but the tradeoff is worth it. I also will flavor my water from time to time with powders or MiO, because drinking plain old water all the time, gets old after awhile.
Making camp Each day you must find a place to lay your head for the night. Since you are continuously moving, it will be in a different place with different circumstances than the night before. Each hiker creates their own routine. Some will make their way to the next shelter and grab a space. This is always more likely to happen if the weather is turning wet or cold. Others, will do some socializing at shelters, then move a way from that area to disperse camp. Wherever you lay your head for the night, it will be a new challenge every day. The best place to camp (for the trail) is at or near a shelter. This keeps the wear and tear to a constrained area. There are also a few of the rare amenities (if I can use that word) at shelters. A privy, fire ring, tent pads, table and water are some of what is usually near a shelter. As a hammock hanger, all I need to do is find two appropriately spaced trees with nothing dead above. Rocks, don't care. Slanting grade, don't care. Under story plants, can easily avoid as my shelter is hanging above all that. To me, tenters have more of a challenge finding a place to place their tent for the night. If you do disperse camp, always try to use leave no trace techniques that minimize your impact on the forest. Try to leave it as if you weren't even there.
Tricks for the long haul They say that accomplishing a long distance hike is about 80% mental. You need to find what works for you to keep yourself motivated and positive. Try to think of the long distance hike as nothing more than a long series of short (multi day) hikes. Create goals that aren't 2000 miles away. Maybe 100 miles or so and strive for that. Think about where your next resupply will be and work on getting there just as you eat your last snickers bar. Keep your mind active and engaged. You will spend a lot of time in your own head. I have solved many a problem, just by mulling it over in my head as I hike along. This may seem impossible on some days, but try to find a reason to laugh and smile during the day. Even on the worst day of hiking, you can still find something to smile about. Hiking a long hike is just like eating an elephant. It seems impossible at first, but the way you eat an elephant is one small piece at a time. You can try to hike the long hike the same way. One small section at a time.
Trail etiquette It is important to not only avoid pissing off those who hike with you, but to also minimize your impact to the trail and surrounding terrain as you hike along. There have been dozens of articles of trail etiquette. How not to "be that guy". A quick google search will give you many examples of what not to do. I try to keep it simple. I basically just invoke the Golden Rule. Don't do anything to another hiker (or the forest) that you don't want done to you. Be considerate, be grateful and be generous. The Leave No Trace movement gives you lots of things to think about when you are out there. Simply put, do whatever you can to minimize your own impact on the trail and those you encounter when you are out there. Plan properly, don't litter, don't be inconsiderate of other hikers and wildlife, don't be irresponsible with fire. One final piece of advice (and I think I have been guilty in the past) is don't be that person who thinks they have all the answers. Who knows it all. Everyone can learn something out there, so always be open to other's opinions and ideas. When we work together out there on the trail, we all excel.
Safety basics One of the best safety skills you can develop is situational awareness. If you can recognize a potential hazardous situation and avoid it, then you are halfway to not encountering something that can end your hike. Don't take unnecessary risks. Is that a storm coming in? Maybe I shouldn't hike up on that exposed ridge. Do I really need to jump off of that bridge? I'm pretty sure I can make that jump from that rock to that one... Take your time, think it through. Carry a first aid kit, but it should be small and simple. On the A.T. you are never very far from help, so you don't need a battle kit with large blood sopping bandages and an I.V. drip. A few band aids, some Triple Antibiotic ointment, blister treatment, duct tape, Vitamin I, tweezers, a needle. That's about it. Being weather observant gets you a long way to being safe out there. Recognize the potential of hypothermia, heat stroke, dehydration. Take actions to prevent it if you can. Always having something dry to get into is pretty important. If you find yourself unable to maintain a safe core body temperature, you need to take action quickly. Get out of wet clothes and into your bag. Sip on some warm drink. Shiver until you are warm. Be leery of "hikers" who don't seem right. Observe, question is need be (and safe), decide whether or not to stay where you are or move on. Intuition is a real thing. Hitch with a friend if possible. It is ok to change your mind about a ride if something doesn't feel right. Just thank them for stopping, but that you decided to wait for your friend or some other cleaver lie.
Safety for women Common sense also plays an important part in keeping yourself safe as a woman on the trail. This in no way says that women are weaker out there or need special help in being safe, but to point out a few things that might need to be thought about as a female hikes. Especially if said female is hiking solo. There is always the "don't publish your location" piece of advice. Delaying your log entries on line can help keep it fuzzy as to where you actually are on the trail. Of course, this can also hinder someone beneficial who is trying to locate you, but it is better to err on the side of caution. There is also the "my hiking partner is right behind me" phrase. Even I use that one from time to time. When hitching, try to find someone to travel with. If it is a scraggly guy, you are actually doing him a favor as it seems woman can get rides easier than men, especially scraggly men. If something doesn't feel right, trust your intuition. If you can remove yourself from the situation safely, do so. If you can't then being able to defend yourself is a good idea. I'm all for carrying the small pepper spray canisters. It can be quite the deterrent. It seems that every female out there acquires a lot of "brother" and "uncle" figures. These people form a protective bond that makes any neer-do-well rethink messing with a lone female that he may think is vulnerable. The Tramily is a strong force. Lastly, if you are receiving unwanted attention (Pink Blazing), the best advice I can offer is to just confront and explain to the Pink Blazer that you are not interested. Try to do that in the presence of your trail brothers, uncles. It would be unfortunate that you have to alter your hike (jumping ahead, taking an extra zero or leaving the trail) because of some asshole that can't understand the word No. Your trail brothers will support you and can even help "convince" the PB'er that they need to move on.
Special concerns for older hikers Just because your body has aged and started to betray you doesn't mean you can't still get out there and hike long distances. There are many older hikers who have hiked thousands of miles in their later years. Some of the things older hikers encounter are mechanical failures. Knees, hips, ankles. You aren't as flexible as you were at 20, so keeping your pace and mileage at a reasonable level, at least for a while is important. Older hikers may also have more concerns with heart issues, that young'ins don't usually need to worry about. If you are on medication, you need to figure out how to resupply those meds when needed. It can be challenging, but is always do-able. There are a lot of older hikers out there. They are able to complete their long distance hike because they were aware of their limitations (if they have them) and they use patience to ensure they can maintain a pace that chews up miles, but doesn't overtax the aging body they live in.
Each Hiker will experience the trail a little bit differently. If you always keep your head clear, your decisions flexible and your attitude adjusted, there is nothing you can't do.
I have decided to join the Appalachian Trials team as one of their bloggers. I will post articles on there from time to time as I think up interesting topics to write about. Here is my intro post. The Quest of Pamola
Here is how it starts: You have to admit, Pamola is a badass looking dude. Well, god actually. As the Penobscot stories go, Pamola is a god of thunder and protector of the Greatest Mountain, aka Katahdin. That’s where he lives and no one comes into his house without paying the price. Read the rest...