Tag: Appalachian Trail

Pains That Never Leave

Pains That Never Leave

It’s been 5 months since I’ve come back, 6 months since I first had the serious knees pains in the Whites. 4 1/2 since I was told I had a stress fracture in my knee and that I’d walked 450 miles on it.

It hasn’t really gone away. The pain. It still aches – maybe it’s been the cold weather, or the rehab or any number of things. But it doesn’t feel healed.

I did 2.4 miles today – half walking and half jogging. It was supposed to be all jogging but I just couldn’t do it. It was really too painful at times – especially going downhills or inclines.

So now out comes the ice

There were no frozen peas in the freezer... damn
There were no frozen peas in the freezer… damn

I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll ever truly heal. Physically, mentally and emotionally.

Better question – do I want to heal from all of this?

I’m not talking about the physical bits – I very much want them to heal up completely. But do I want to go back to the way I was before? Do I want to go back to offices, schools and a world of concrete? Do I want to return to the trail? I know I’m not the only one with these issues – Lots of other hikers I know are having the same issues with transition and their futures.

Spring Fever has officially hit and a lot of people are talking about new hikes. Hell Acorn has gone from the AT, to the Florida Trail and is now heading to the PCT. Some are talking of CDT, JMT or even the AT again.

But I’m struck by something my friend Chevy, a 2011 thru hiker had said about his girlfriend at the time.

“We got off the trail together, but she never left the Trail. She couldn’t leave it. I understood that, but you have to come back to society at some point. You can’t keep walking away from yourself and your problems forever. So we ended. And she kept walking.”

I feel that pull everyday, to go back out there and be free. It changed me, hiking for that long. But I also was on the trail running away from things, trying to figure myself out and to achieve something. I did those things. Now I’m back in society figuring out my next move.

Maybe it is hiking about long distance trail. Maybe it’s getting a good job that pays well and paying off my student debt. Maybe it’s going back to school for something I want to do. Maybe it’s meeting someone I can spend the rest of my life with.

Maybe it’s all of those things. But for the moment, I think I’ve got to Leave the Trail for a little bit. Concentrate on something that isn’t 20 miles a day.

Because we all have to change, and leave our trails at some point. They all end – there is a finite amount. I’d rather leave more adventures for tomorrow then put off everything for today.

I just think about what Chevy said sometimes and wonder – what happens to those people who never leave The Trail?

Waking Walking Dreams

Waking Walking Dreams

I had a long discussion this evening with SingleGirlHiking about the Great Eastern Trail (GET), a 1600 mile long trail from Alabama to New York.

The pull is great. It is strong.

I justified it in my mind as well. The flu study I’m in the running for would pay for 4 months of hiking without any problem. I could be the third person ever to hike the GET on foot (no yellow blazing, no skipping for this one…). I could escape again to the wilderness and walk. Be free and whole again.

It’s a strong feeling. Being whole like that again.

I’ve felt good about myself before. In college I felt like I belonged, felt loved and accepted. I was loved and accepted, with many friends. They felt like family.

But out on a trail, I feel Whole. It’s hard to explain. Everyday I felt born again, every person I met never questioned who I was, or what I was doing. There wasn’t judgement on how I lived my life. My actions spoke for who I was, and nothing more.

I romanticize the Trail life quite a bit. I know I do. I remember how terrible the climb down the White’s was when I almost died. How it never stopped raining in the south for days. The feeling of dampness and wet that never went away no matter how much sun you got. The hunger and disgust when you had nothing but chicken ramen to eat that night. The pain of a 25 mile day.

But I have never felt more alive. More complete. More myself than I did out there. I had purpose and drive and love. Love for the people around me, the trees that grew over me and the smell of dirt and pines.

I can smell that freedom now when I close my eyes. I may be physically sitting in a basement in Virginia, but when I close my eyes I am in Maine or Tennese. Vermont or North Carolina. New Hampshire. I smell the pines, feel the dirt, pine needles below my feet. Feel the wind whistle around me and carry the scents of the forest while it tugs on my hair. It is as real to me in my dreams as it is to someone standing there.

Because I’m still standing there in those places. They never leave me. Even when I’m sitting in a basement in Virginia, crying a silent tear. Because of where I am, instead of where I am meant to be.

Forever onward
Forever onward
Friends Keep Going

Friends Keep Going

Sometimes you need a little extra push to make it.

Ron Haven was far from home, but wanted us to all know we were still in his thought.
Ron Haven was far from home, but wanted us to all know we were still in his thought.

There’s no shame in that. We all need a little help, sometimes more than a little. Help can come in all different forms, shapes and sizes. You may not even realize it’s help until far after the fact. But however it comes and finds you, it helps you to keep on going.

Ron Haven, of Franklin, NC Budget Inn fame gave a little help at the PA/NJ border. He’d given material help down in NC, shuttling us all around town to the grocery store and buffet in his mini bus from the motel. He told stories and gave advice, made us laugh and helped us to remember to be happy – that while this was difficult it wasn’t something that had to make you miserable.

So when I saw his business card slid into the visitors map at Delaware Water Gap’s Sunfish Pond, he reminded me that even people we met only briefly were still thinking of us, pulling for us to finish. We had never left his thoughts. We were his friends and he was happy for us.

Why do some people keep going when other get stuck in a rut or are unable to complete? The AT is full of this question – some people get off after 10, 20 or 40 miles. Others make it to 500 and leave. More still find themselves close to the end and remove themselves from the Trail. Few actually finish.

Sometimes it’s not a question of want or desire to complete something – there are things that can stop one from finishing far beyond your control. A girl I knew in TN/NC (actually we stayed in the Budget Inn together…) named Genie made it to Damascus and found she had stress fractures in her Tibia. She tried to rest it for two weeks and came back, only to have it fully fracture and took her off the Trail. She had done 1000 miles of the AT as a section in 2011 and was determined to finish. She’s going back out there again this year.

But for most, the decision to leave is a mental one. The reasons are as varied as the people who leave. Some are tired, angry, sick or just plain exhausted. Some built the journey up to something it wasn’t and now upon realizing the truth can’t handle it. Others found what they were looking for and decided that was enough.

The people who stay though, who keep going always have that nagging thought in the back of their head. “I’m here by choice. I could go home anytime.” What stops them from going home?

Some are just stubborn people.

Like everyone else out on the AT, Ron Haven had his quirks and stories. Stories were that he was a former wrestler turned businessman turned county commissioner. Perhaps he was just a guy who owned a motel and learned that the hikers needed help – and started helping. Maybe he really was Jack Black’s second cousin. His history didn’t really matter to us – what mattered was he was there. And like everyone I met onthe AT, Ron Haven made a bigger impact in the small amount of time I was near him then most people in my “real world” back home.

 

So keep going friends. When you feel as if the world is too much, the miles are weighing you down, just keep going. Left foot. Right foot.

 

Because any day out here is a better day then one in the office.

Your Trail Name is You

Your Trail Name is You

One of the biggest things that new hikers on the Appalachian Trail are worried about is their trail names. A trail name is how you identify yourself to other hikers – it’s a pseudonym that will follow you around forever and have stories attached to it. So naturally, everyone wants a cool name and some are tempted to give themselves one.

Don’t.

I say this out of love – don’t give yourself a trail name. It’s not who YOU are on the trail, it’s who you THINK you’re going to be on the trail. Those are two very different people. In fact, they are such wildly different people that you’ll sometimes wonder who that other person is.

I can think of a handful of people who have given themselves trail names before they got on the trail who actually embodied their trail names, and that had more to do with who they were as a person than anything.

Plus, you want a great story to go along with your trail name right? You don’t want to have to give the answer “oh, well it sounded cool so I picked it.” No! You want an awesome story, like Talker has!

Talker’s name relates back to his hike, and the person who he is. Imagine if he’d chosen a name before hand, like “Strider”. It wouldn’t have reflected the man who he was –¬† a sleep talking, hilarious young man.

My name relates back to my first hike and the spices I was carrying in a novel way. Little Spoon’s relates back to his off-hand comment about how he “sometimes like to be the little spoon in bed”. Chuckles got hers because you could hear her laugh for miles, and she was always laughing. Snakebite got bit by that snake and Fire Eater went after the bacon in the fire. It’s who they were, are.

I know you’re anxious about trail names. I know you want something cool. Don’t take the easy way out – wait for it. It’ll be awesome. If you do get one you’re not comfortable with, you don’t have to take it. You can say “no, I’m not okay with that name” if it’s something that disturbs you or puts you off – that’s fine.

But artifically creating a name for yourself, when you don’t know who you’re going to be? I would advise against it. Especially not Strider. Because every time I meet a “Strider” I make it my goal in life to rename them.

Strider became Slider this year. Strider became Hatchet. Strider became Slowpoke. Strider became Nap Time.

So wait for your name. Have adventures. Do silly things. Carry silly things. You’ll get an awesome name. Promise.

All The Little Things You Might Have Forgot

All The Little Things You Might Have Forgot

See if I hadn’t brought a kite I wouldn’t have gotten this awesome picture…

When it comes to gear, long distance backpackers will talk for hours upon hours. We love all aspects of gear, and love seeing what others are carrying and why. It’s important for us, because we use it everyday.

So now that everyone has taken all the extra stuff out of their pack, lets put some things in that they’ll want for various reasons.

  • Extra zip-lock bags. You can never have enough of these (especially the larger ones) and they weigh nothing. Use them for food storage, waterproofing electronics and maps, putting books or clothes into – even a pillow or waterproof booties over your socks when you’ve got wet shoes. There are few things zip-lock doesn’t solve.
  • Make sure your headlamp has a red or green light on it. You don’t want to be “that guy/girl” in the shelter at night waking everyone up to go pee. Plus, red lights are a much lower power and draw less battery, making your headlamp last longer. It’s much easier to read with that red light at night without disturbing EVERYONE ELSE. If you don’t have a red light on your already purchased headlamp, some colored cellophane and a pair of binder clips can work. There are also very low cost red light only lights that are sold as clip ons, or aftermarket cheap lenses that snap one. But seriously – don’t be “that person” in the shelter.
  • Watches are a controversial thing out on the trail, but I find they come in handy. There will be a few times when you’ll want to get up early to see a sunrise, or you have to leave in order to get to a post office before closing. Sure you could turn your phone on to check – but why waste that batter power? Snag yourself a cheap waterproof watch. Get a kids one if you can – they are always more colorful and fun.
  • Pen or pencil. In fact bring two. There are some shelter logs where the pens are dead or have wandered off, and you’ll want to leave an entry. Shelter logs are one of the best things about the AT – you get to hear from people you’ve never met and you’ll learn to love them from their entries. The pen is also helpful if you want to leave a note along the trail for someone behind you – you’re going into town and are staying at XYZ hotel. So use an old guidebook page that you’ve already walked over, write a note on that, put it in a zip-lock (you ARE carrying extras right?) if it’s raining and head to town.
  • Needle and thread. Or needle and dental floss. I prefer the later, but it’s up to you. You’ll need to sew something back together guaranteed, whether it’s your pants that blew out in the knee, the shirt that got ripped from a low hanging branch, or an attempt to make your shoes go just a few more miles to town before they die a terrible terrible death. Needle and thread will help.
  • A good eating utensil. This is one of these things that for some reason people decide that they have to have “ultralight” which baffles me. This is a piece of equipment that you’ll use everyday, takes a lot of abuse and is pretty important. Get a metal one and don’t look back. The number of plastic/lexan ones I saw broken out on the trail was staggering. I think the $15 I spent in Delaware Water Gap getting a titanium spoon/fork was the best purchase ever.
  • Multiple USB outlet plug. There is nothing worse than jockeying for outlets because everyone has their stuff plugged in. If you’re part of the growing number of hikers with more than one thing to charge, get yourself a plug that has more than one socket to it. If you have two things to charge in town (phone and say, steripen) then get a dual plug wall charger. Get a small square one if possible, so you’ll be able to fit it in anywhere. Long cords also help – the weight is negligible.




  • Sunscreen for the first two weeks. You never would think you’d burn in early April, but you will. The leaves aren’t out on the trees yet, but you’re hiking enough that you’ll be in short sleeves. and you’re exposed. You. Will. Burn. So bring along a small sunscreen and use it. If you ignore this warning, be prepared to buy the smallest thing of aloe that have (usually 8-12 ozs). Which sounds like a better use of weight?
  • You don’t need a big knife or a multitool. Seriously, when are you going to use that screwdriver? All you need is one blade. I got by with a 2 inch blade that cost me $3. Plastic handle. Simple.
  • Bring an extra lighter or a small book of matches and keep them dry. When it rains and you spring a leak and your lighter gets wet, there is nothing worse than trying to dry that flint out. Or sometimes your lighter will walk away. It happens. Bring a backup.
  • I like athletic tape over duct tape when it comes to wounds/first aid. Peeling duct tape off your body is pretty terrible – athletic tape flexes better and I find it doesn’t rub badly when wet. A little athletic tape (the cloth kind) is cheap and light. Consider it for blisters.
  • Bug headnet. Mail it ahead to yourself for PA. You’ll want it there, and by the time you get to a place that sells them in PA, they’ll be sold out
  • Bring the camp shoes. You’re probably on the fence about them because you’ve heard so many different things… But the truth is you’ll want them the first day it rains. Why? Because your shoes/boot will be soaked and you want to put dry socks on. But then.. you’ve got to go to the bathroom at 3am. Shove your clean fresh dry socks into wet shoes? NO. Camp shoes! Worth the weight!
  • Extra candy. Seriously. You’ll want it. Chocolate. Hard candy. Bring the sugar! Put it in your morning coffee if you drink that, your complete breakfast powder or your protein shake. It’ll help with the flavor.




Fun things. I can’t stress this one enough. You’re going out on an adventure¬† and you should enjoy yourself. By that I mean you want to have good memories, and you want to be a good memory to others.

What do I mean by that exactly?

The people you’ll remember far longer than others are the ones that stand out. Carry interesting and fun things – things that aren’t necessarily useful. I can still remember each and every person who carried silly things.

Things I’ve seen on the trail include:
Kites. Pinatas. Wiffle ball bats (with returning wiffle ball). Foam swords. Real swords. Crazy hats. Water guns. Flasks of alcohol. Whole bottles of alcohol. Musical instruments: harmonicas, mandolin, ukulele, travel guitars, full size guitars, banjos, trumpets,a tuba, violin, drums, cymbals. Plastic figures and toys (dinosaurs, alligators, birds, bears). Flags. A platoon of Green Army Men. Bricks. 2 pound mushroom paper-weights. Etch-a-sketches. Crayons. Paints. Chalk.

I could go on and on with this list. But bring fun things. Bring something that makes you stand out in the crowd. Don’t afraid to be a little crazy. You’re out in the woods already! Have fun with it.

And don’t forget your sense of adventure!

You're going to have a blast
You’re going to have a blast