0 miles, 468 overall
I have two zero days in Damascus with Christy. Instead of my normal format, I’m going to summarize what we did and use this post to talk about random stuff.
On the first zero we drove to Boone to get to a good outfitter. Mast General Store had everything I needed, including new shoes. My feet have swollen and the shoes I have been using since Springer (Vasque Mindbender trailrunners) are fitting a bit tight. I had to go up a half size to get a proper fit again. I also got some Vibram five fingers. I will use them as camp shoes for now and if I get used to them I may end up trying them out for hiking during the day. I’ve seen several people do this on the trail and they all say the shoes are great except for toe stubs, which are an obvious drawback to minimalist shoes. I looked for a replacement section for my tent pole but couldn’t find an outfitter who had one, so I’ll have MSR ship one ahead to me.
I used the rest of the day to catch up on the blog (typed new entries and also added the place I stayed to each past entry) and eat a lot of food. I had breakfast at the B&B, lunch at a place called Come Back Burger in Boone that was pretty good, first dinner at McDonald’s (I’ve been craving it for a while) and second dinner at a local restaurant.
On the second zero I spent the morning inventorying my gear and food and planning out my next section. I don’t have a maildrop for almost 200 miles so I wanted to make sure I would be able to resupply as well as get into a hostel I’ve wanted to stay at, so I looked up a resupply point and also considered mileages to put me within striking distance of the hostel in time to get there before it is full. We got lunch at Subway and then went out to a parking lot along the trail to do some trail magic. There weren’t many hikers because we got there a bit late, but we did meet 4 thru-hikers. Turns out 3 of them were from Switzerland: Swiss, Boots, and Melody. Swiss was there when we arrived and the others showed up just as we were getting ready to leave because we thought nobody else was coming. We ended up giving Swiss a ride into Damascus. He has hurt his ankle a bit and wants to slackpack the last 20 miles to Damascus. After we dropped him off we hit the grocery store before doing dinner at Quincy’s again (no karaoke this time). I spent the rest of the night organizing everything and cleaning gear that hadn’t been cleaned in a while (e.g. Camelbak).
Now for the random stuff:
The AT, as you have noticed, is a social trail. There is a huge trail community that includes past and present hikers, trail angels, trail maintainers, and the towns the trail passes through. This differentiates it from the PCT and the CDT, the other long distance trails in the US. Although I’m told the PCT has a bit of the same thing going on with people leaving water for hikers in dry areas and offering places to stay, I don’t get the impression that it is at the same level as on the AT. There are also fewer thru-hikers on the PCT every year so you aren’t sharing shelters and campsites as much. On the other trails you get a lot more time to yourself. Stinger told us on the CDT last year he thought there were fewer than 50 hikers attempting to thru-hike. That compares to roughly 2000 on the AT.
With the social aspect comes certain rules regarding behavior. For example, if you stay in a shelter where everyone else is hanging their food, then you hang your food as well. When it gets dark it gets quiet. When you find trail magic and nobody is there, you take one and leave the rest. What is interesting is that the rules aren’t written down anywhere or told to us when we start. They simply arise, deriving from common courtesy to other hikers, and all of the thru-hikers know them. That means that non-thru-hikers may not be familiar with them. Recently we had section hikers take up space in a shelter by pitching their tent inside it. When it happened to me it was at Overmountain Shelter, a giant barn, so space wasn’t an issue. When it happened to others it was at Roan Mountain Shelter, which only holds about 6 people, so space was an issue.
I believe my 32 mile day was the first marathon I have ever done.
I like my maildrop strategy. So far it has worked perfectly. I have only sent them to places where I plan to stay, and that helps deal with the problems people sometimes have in getting them. When I have one scheduled at a post office I’ll have to be more careful. I haven’t had anything missing in the maildrops that I couldn’t find on the trail, but the great thing about the maildrops is that while everyone else is starting to get tired of Ramen every night, I’m eating Cowboy Pasta or Pasta Genovese. A few times there has been too much food in my maildrops and I’ve had to give some away. The dehydrated dinners always get rave reviews. In fact TP thanked Christy for the dinners when he met her.
I’m starting to prefer hiking alone rather than with a group, and campsites versus shelters. The shelters recently haven’t provided much more than a place to sleep. They don’t have privies or bear cables. They often have a spring, but there are often campsites near springs as well. I do like hanging out with other hikers at shelters, but we are getting to the point where hikers tend to arrive late. I like to get to bed early and get up early, so if they arrive late I don’t get that interaction time. In that case I may as well camp somewhere. In the next section I’m not hiking with anyone else. TW has hiked out of Damascus already and UV and Naked Ninja are still behind me, so I’ll try my hand at being a lone hiker. I’ll also try camping alone somewhere along the trail to see if I like it better than shelters.
I got lucky with weather in the Smokies. I had one cold day the last day, but otherwise it was pleasant. I also lucked out that I wasn’t hiking when the snow hit last week. I was safely ensconced in Black Bear Resort. Others weren’t so lucky. Roan Mountain apparently got lots of snow and lots of wind. So although I was able to get away with sending some of my cold weather gear home early, it probably wasn’t such a great idea considering what could have happened. I do still have to go over Mount Rogers in Virginia, but the weather report is looking good for that.
A number of hikers have had the same knee problem that I had – Chondromalacia patella. Zorra is a physical therapist and mentioned she had talked to a lot of hikers who had it. Too many people trying to do too many miles too soon. Luckily I learned my lesson before getting on the trail. Others are having to learn as they go. I’ve recommended a patellar support strap to several of them and it seems to help a lot in most cases.
Honey buns and instant mashed potatoes are two big food items this year. Instant mashed potatoes are great because they are light, full of calories, and can be added to just about anything. I’ve taken to carrying some in my food bag to add to my dinners either if I’m extra hungry or if I have extra water in my pot that my dinner didn’t soak up. They also make cleaning the pot easier as they tend to keep the cheese in the dinners from sticking to the pot. Honey buns on the other hand are the snack of choice. The Swiss found them recently and mentioned how it was great to find something bread-like, coming from a culture where bread is a central part of every meal. As hikers we simply can’t carry a lot of bread, so honey buns provide a less crusty substitute. They also have the highest calorie-to-weight ratio I’ve been able to find yet (except perhaps olive oil, but nobody is drinking olive oil straight). Since they’re also usually under a dollar, they are the best price-to-calorie-to-weight ratio around.
I’ve talked to several hikers about how the calorie-to-weight ratio should be added to hiker foods like energy bars. We don’t care if something has 400 calories if it weighs a pound, but if it is only 4 ounces, now we’re talking. That would also make it easier to compute the price-to-calorie-to-weight ratio in our heads, letting us find the most cost efficient, high calorie foods. Food companies, take note.
I’m going to be trying out the Vibram Five Fingers as camp shoes but I am excited about them as possible hiking shoes too. I’ve heard good things from people who wear them. One of the things that minimalist shoes are supposed to do is teach you to walk with less heel strike and more on your toes. People who study walking and running say that those who run a lot tend to run more on the balls of their feet and have less heel strike. I’ve actually noticed myself doing more of that out here. Especially on downhills I tend to do what I call the “old man marathoner,” where I look like I’m running but my speed is actually not any faster than walking. I think the Five Fingers could be quite comfy since I’ve already altered my gait somewhat.
From here on the trail changes a bit. The towns are much less frequent and usually smaller. There are also fewer really well-known hostels. This might play in my favor, allowing me to get into the hostels I want to stay at even after long mileage days. The trail will also be less up-and-down and will follow the contours of the land more. I’m looking forward to that, but wonder if by the time I reach the north I may have lost some of the muscle strength I’ve built up for climbing the hills.
Time for food. Tomorrow Christy will drop me off back at the Appalachian Trail!