32.8 miles, 315 overall (Hogback Ridge shelter)
Yesterday marked 110 days until my planned start date in Georgia. Yes, I’ve started counting. I have put reminders on my calendar every 10 days (Dec 12th will mark 100 days left). With the holidays coming up I hope at least the next 30 days will fly. January may drag a bit, but I think February will be crazy with last-minute preparations, finishing things up around the house and at work, and not being able to sleep due to anticipation.
First, thanks to Lewis and Juana for my first donation! You guys are great, even though you evidently don’t like my hair! If you haven’t donated, please consider going here and giving what you can to a good cause. Also be sure to pass it along to your friends so they can get the same vicarious thrills from my trip that you do!
So what am I looking forward to about the trail? Here’s a non-comprehensive, unordered list:
Growing an epic beard
The longest I’ve ever grown my facial hair was about a week. I had just gotten past the itchiness when I had to shave it for something-or-other. If enough money is raised, I will be starting with not only a shaved face, but also a shaved head! For an idea what growing my beard will look like, see the Youtube video below!
I have 2 weddings that I’ll be taking a few days away from the trail for next year, and I’ve already warned both of my friends about the impending intrusion of furriness. Luckily both brides thought it would be awesome. Perhaps I should also warn them about the potential size of my appetite? The first should be around Harpers Ferry and the second should be around VT/NH. Now let’s hope my suit fits after 1500 miles…
Get up. Eat. Walk. Eat. Walk some more. Eat. Go to sleep.
My name is Travis, and I’m an introvert. Apparently not everyone knows that about me. Recently I said something to my sister about being an introvert and she responded with a blunt, “No you aren’t.” It took me by surprise. Apparently she thought that since I had been relatively social in high school (i.e. had friends) that I was an extrovert. She even suggested that at some point in college I must have switched from being extroverted to being introverted.
Introverts aren’t the anti-social people that they are often portrayed as. Around the time I started dating Christy I came across a great article titled “Caring for your introvert”. It does a great job explaining that many introverts (I’d like to think myself included) can function well in social settings: they can give great presentations to large groups of people, can carry on a conversation with others, and crave human interactions once in a while. The distinction is that for introverts these kinds of activities are draining, and afterward we need some time alone to recharge. Since Christy read the article she has understood me much better, and now whenever we spend time with her friends or family she is great about giving me time afterward to recharge.
On my trip I’m looking forward to some time alone with my thoughts in the woods, to listen to the wind through the trees, and to let my mind wander. Will I get bored? I’m sure I will sometimes. I’ve never hiked 120 days in a row, but I imagine it gets a little monotonous (hence the “Virginia Blues”). Town visits and interactions with other hikers will break up the monotony, bringing me to the next thing I’m excited about…
Introverts also don’t need to be alone all of the time. I crave human interaction just as much as everyone else – I just don’t need it all the time. One of the great things about the Appalachian Trail is the opportunity to meet all kinds of new and interesting people who travel from all over the world to hike 2200 miles along the eastern seaboard. Of the three big long-distance trails in the US (the AT, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail) the AT is the most travelled, and so it offers more opportunities for interactions. At night sometimes I will set up camp by myself, but other times I will camp with people at shelters where we’ll have campfires and lively discussions, share food, and contemplate what the next day will bring.
It will be fun to be able to eat however much I want of whatever I want (e.g. wedding cake). I was able to do that when I was on the crew team in college because no matter what I ate, I would end up burning it off in practice. The typical hiker burns around 6000 calories per day, so the return of my gluttony will be not only welcome but necessary!
Watching the scenery change
In the south the mountains roll across the landscape covered in deciduous trees. Towns are several days apart and often I will be camping several miles from the nearest trace of civilization. It is easy to hitch a ride, and I’m sure at some point I will ride in the back of someone’s pickup truck. Waffle Houses and Huddle Houses will be common, and restaurants will serve sweet tea. Pennsylvania is where the most dramatic changes will begin to happen. Once I cross the Mason Dixon line, the mountains will become rockier. As I enter New England I’ll actually pass the lowest point on the trail (in New York) just a couple hundred feet above sea level. Further into New England the mountains will be covered with conifers, if at all. In some areas I will be camping less than a mile from civilization, and during the day I will have opportunities to stop off at restaurants less than a mile from the trail for lunch. I won’t be able to ride in the back of a pickup, Huddle Houses and Waffle Houses will become less common, and I’ll have to ask for sugar packets along with my tea.
Along with the trail scenery the people scenery will change too. About 30% of the hikers I meet in Ga will no longer be on the trail when I reach Tennessee. By Harpers Ferry, the psychological midway point on the trail, another 20% will have dropped off. Those who remain will be thinner, their packs will be lighter, and many of the men will be fluffy bearded versions of their former selves.
Sunrises and sunsets
Not sure that an explanation is needed, but I will say that I plan to camp somewhere that I can either see the sun set while I get ready for sleep or watch it rise as I wake up as often as possible.
Seeing a moose
No explanation necessary here either, except to say that I won’t get a chance to see any until New England. I’ve already seen black bears so I’m not as excited about them, although I expect I’ll see a few of them as well.
Completing a dream
I hiked a piece of the AT in high school with my Boy Scout troop. I can’t remember if at the time I realized how long the trail was or that it stretched continuously from Georgia all the way to Maine. I also don’t remember if I realized that the whole trail could be hiked end-to-end at one time. I do remember in college reading about a hiker who had hiked the whole trail over summer break. If it wasn’t a dream for me to do a thru-hike before then, after that it definitely was. That was over 10 years ago. I’m lucky that I’ll have a chance to accomplish one of my dreams.
Have you ever noticed how events in life seem to correlate? During the summer I was teaching an environmental science class at the local community college. The day after we covered air pollution I was driving on the interstate and noticed the ozone warning in effect. This morning I was thinking about watching Dan in Real Life. Instead I watched another movie, but an actress who played one of Dan’s (Steve Carell) daughters was in the movie I chose to watch.
I keep getting asked lately whether I’m excited. It’s only going to become more frequent as my start date approaches. People always ask whether you’re excited when you’re about to do something that’s rare. Weddings, retirement (I assume), a big trip. I started trying out different answers to the question, but then the other day I started reading a new trail journal. Portrait hiked the trail this year northbound. On the train on the way to Ga he had time to ponder the same question. I like his answer better than any I’ve come up with so far.
Last week Christy and I visited my dad in Georgia. While there we went to Amicalola Falls State Park, which is where the approach trail for the AT begins. The approach trail is about 8.5 miles of waterfalls and uphill to get to the top of Springer Mountain and the true AT trailhead. It is clearly designated by the visitor’s center and a giant arch.
On the corner of the visitor’s center hangs my nemesis: the scale. When thru-hikers begin they sign in at the visitor’s center and weigh their packs. My goal is to keep that pack as light as I can. There are several things that seem to drive hikers off the trail in the first few weeks, including 1) Going too fast too soon, 2) Having too much weight in your pack, and 3) Not realizing that they don’t like backpacking. The third won’t be a problem for me, as evidenced by my training hikes. The first two I know first-hand are problems because they cause injuries, but both can be controlled by not hiking too far the first few days and keeping your pack weight down.
While in the visitor’s center my dad chatted up some of the guys working there. One was a really nice older gentleman who talked about his work as a trail angel in Georgia. The other guy working there that day was younger and mentioned that the ATC over-estimates the percent of people who complete thru-hikes. Instead of 25%, he argues it is closer to 10%. I’m inclined to believe him – I think the ATC numbers include people who have finished multi-year section hikes of the trail. So let’s call it in between and say approximately 1 in 7 finish. He asked if I had been backpacking before. I said yes, but didn’t elaborate. He asked if we had hiked the approach trail yet. When I said no, he suggested that we try it so I could get an idea what it was like. His tone implied that I didn’t know what I was in for and it would kick my butt come March. I should have caught his name so I could send him a postcard from Katahdin.
We explored the waterfalls a bit. Amicalola is known for having the tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi. While walking around we noticed a guy with a pack and Christy commented that it was the same pack I have. He heard her, and turned to say that it was a good pack. Turns out he was a southbounder who had just finished the trail that day. His plan now? Keep going. The Benton MacKaye Trail leads to the Pinhoti trail not far from Springer Mountain, and the Florida Trail beckons. Altogether, these trails make up the
So, am I excited? Let’s just say that as we were walking around Amicalola I felt a strong desire to throw a pack on my back and start hiking north toward Maine.
When people find out that I’m going to thru-hike the AT, there are 2 usual reactions. In order of frequency, they are:
1) Your wife is going to let you do that?
2) Your job is giving you the time off?
I’ll address the second another time, but for the first, I usually respond with 2 answers:
1) I have a wonderful wife who is excited about supporting my dream.
2) I made it a condition of us getting married.
I’m actually not joking about the second, I actually did make it a condition of us getting married. At the time I think she half-thought I was kidding; half-thought because she knew that this was something I truly did want to do someday. However part of getting married is supporting each other to accomplish your dreams, and this is one of mine. It has been for at least 11 years. When I get back it will be her turn 🙂
Now for my first answer. Christy truly is wonderful, and the key word in my usual answer is “supporting”. Christy is going to play a key role in helping me accomplish my dream. She is going to be coordinating my zero days, mailing my mail drops, meeting me periodically along the way, taking care of the dog and cat and everything else at home, and I’m sure tons of other things I can’t think of right now. My hike is also in many ways going to be her hike.
Perhaps the best way to explain it is through the words of the wife of one of this year’s thru-hikers. Rusty Bumper is one of the thru-hikers I followed on trailjournals.com this year. He gave one entry to his wife so she could explain what she does, how she handles him being gone, and how she feels about his hike. I’ll let her tell you in her own words. Feel free to read the rest of the journal; he updated it daily and I found it to be a fun read.
That’s the doctor’s diagnosis. I went because obviously there’s something wrong with my knee. It hasn’t completely healed since the last training hike (about 3 months later, including >1 month of no leg work at the gym) and now it pops/cracks (like a knuckle) much more often than my other knee. WebMD tells me that these are signs you should see a doctor, so I did. Apparently my kneecap isn’t tracking correctly and is rubbing against the other bones in my knee. I’m not excited about this. It’s worse than I had hoped, and could derail my hike. Best case is I do some physical therapy, take it easy, and am back on the trail in a month or so. Worst case, physical therapy doesn’t help, I try surgery (this won’t be for a while, just giving the worst case) and it doesn’t help, and I never get to do my dream hike. Obviously there are lots of possibilities in between. Let’s hope for the best case.
I’ve had two physical therapy sessions so far. We are concentrating on strengthening and increasing flexibility in my hip flexors. Apparently (as noted in the link above) this is a common treatment. However it strikes me as interesting that it doesn’t address the area where I tend to get pain when hiking, which seems to be where my quadricep attaches to the kneecap. I geeked out today (check out the totally cool diagram of the knee found here!) and did some extra research. Apparently there are a bunch of muscles that are involved in making your kneecap track correctly – four muslces to be exact, hence the name of the well-known QUADricep. There’s the Rectus femoris, the Vastus intermedius, the Vastus lateralis, and the Vastus medialis, the last of which corresponds to where I feel the pain when I’m hiking. Some additional research led me to this simpler website and this more complicated one, both of which seem to describe me perfectly. So in addition to the flexibility/strengthening exercises the therapist is giving me, I’m going to add the exercises of the vastus medialis that the website prescribes. Can’t hurt right?
In my poking around the internet I also found a reference to the “Terrible too’s” which probably explain my injury – too much, too fast, too soon, too often, with too little rest. Maybe the too often doesn’t apply, but the rest probably describe my last 2 training hikes. The next will definitely need to be low mileage and focus on gear. I’ll also have to put double the focus on starting my hike slow – no more than 8 miles a day for the first week, maybe even two weeks.