What I Learned Thru Hiking The Appalachian Trail
A few years ago I hiked the Appalachian Trail with a good friend, and the experience remains the most memorable and enjoyable six months of my life. There are few days I don't dream about grabbing my pack and heading back out on the trail. So far, I haven't. But I do return daily to the knowledge (some backpacking and some general life lessons) I picked up while hiking. Here are some of my favorites:
The author at McAfee Knob. Photo: Kat Andrew
1. People are awesome
"Trail Magic" refers to planned or unplanned nuggets of incredibleness that get scattered along the trail with the purpose of lifting up a hiker's spirit on a bad day. It can take the form of fruit, drinks or candy left in a cooler along the way, or a good deed, like the section hikers who took me out to dinner after their last day on the trail. "Trail Magic" can also be a hitch into town on a rainy day after every car on earth passed you by. Trail Magic renews your faith in humanity, and you realize that despite what Fox News, CNN and NPR report, people are awesome.
Kelly Knob. Photo: Kat Andrew
2. Get away every once in awhile
The AT is a social trail; there was only one day in the six months I hiked that I didn't see another person. Shelters can get crowded and sometime you need some time away. Camp or bivy somewhere that calls to you. Spend time with your own thoughts and reflect on the incredible experience you are embarking on.
The trail through the White Mountains. Photo: Matt Allenbaugh
3. Take care of yourself
This is a long, physically difficult trip and it's important to keep your body healthy. There are going to be falls, bumps, bruises and sore joints along the way. A few minutes of stretching or yoga at the end of each day will help to keep you mobile and injury free. If you happen to camp next to a stream, soak your feet and lower legs to reduce any swelling or soreness and limit the wear and tear carrying 30ish pounds on your back day in and day out can do to your body. Just like with your car or bike, a little bit of preventative maintenance can keep you going smoothly mile after mile.
The AT near Sinking Creek. Photo: Kat Andrews
4. A pound on the feet is worth five in the pack
Everyone on the trail is trying to shave weight from their packs. Efforts range from eating only Ramen Noodles to keep their food light to drilling holes in toothbrush handles to trimming compression straps on packs to save grams. But it's what's on your feet that can make so much more of an impact. Choosing lightweight, supportive boots like the Oboz Firebrand will save weight and be more comfortable on each and every one of your approximately 4,400,000 steps. I wear these on three-season day hikes and backpacking trips and when I do my next long distance hike (John Muir Trail) I will definitely be wearing these.
The trail ends, but the beauty endures. Photo: Matt Allenbaugh
5. Be prepared for the end
There will be a day when you will wake up in your bed instead of your sleeping bag and it will come as a shock. The dream world you were walking through will come to an end and you will be thrown back into the world of email, deadlines and days that don't end with the setting of the sun. Have your affairs in order before you leave to lessen the stress of returning to the 'real world'. But don't despair it's this return to the 'real world' that lights the fire for the next great hike.