Monthly Archives: January 2013

A Good Day to Hike

Thru Hiker Junior from Maine and Don's Brother at Bascom Lodge on Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts, 2004

Thru Hiker Junior from Maine and Don’s Brother at Bascom Lodge on Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts, 2004

FDR Statue at Dowdell's Knob

FDR Statue at Dowdell’s Knob

I hiked today. Just finished 14.8 miles on the Pine Mt. Trail . I’m tired. I’ve changed into dry clothes, put on my new camp shoes, and had a snack. As I sit here on the tailgate of my Explorer, I’m thinking how I’ll feel at the end of a day on the AT. I’m also amazed at how well auto correct works on this iPhone. So If you’re reading this you will know that I successfully wrote, copied, and pasted this entry.

Today was a day that I wanted to check our a few things. I’ve been debating whether or not to carry rain pants. So when I began my hike this morning I decided to try out some Frogg Toggs. With the temps in the high 30’s and a chilly wind, I walked for almost ten miles before I shed them for running shorts. Surprisingly I liked them. They breathed well and were only damp around the waist.

The hike today consisted of the 7.8 mile Big Poplar Loop plus a 3.5 mile each way out and back to Dowdell’s Knob. Terrain was easy to moderate with more easy; however, there were still some areas that reminded me of the AT. At one point there were so many rocks that I thought I had momentarily been transported to Pennsylvania. I also noticed how important it is to concentrate late in the day. On three occasions I slightly tripped just because I hadn’t raised my feet to avoid a rock.

Again like many other weekday hikes up here, I saw no other people for the entire hike. I know that will never be the case on the Appalachian Trail. It got a little lonely at times. I rarely hike with music, so it was just me and my thoughts for over six hours. That can be good and bad. Would’ve been nice to share them with someone. I didn’t even see any wildlife, not even a squirrel.

I thought a lot about my upcoming AT venture and about other hikes on the trail. At one point I remembered something that happened at Bascom Lodge on Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts. A thru hiker from Maine, who Alton and I had met a few days earlier, showed up in the late afternoon. We had gotten ahead of Junior because he had taken a zero day back in CT. After we persuaded him to join us for a salmon meal as our guest, he hoisted his pack to make the next shelter even though it was almost dark. Junior could smell the end. He was ready to be finished. Even when we offered to pay for his bunk he declined, stating that he needed to make more miles before sundown.

As I sit here with sunset approaching, I wonder how I’ll feel if I get that close to completion. So today was a good day to hike…..not too cold, just cold enough to be comfortable. It would be a good night for a campfire on the AT. For me, it’s a half hour drive back to a warm home, a hot shower, hearty meal, and a comfortable bed. There will be time enough for camping once I arrive on the Appalachian Trail.

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Where Do I Sleep?

Shelter along the AT

Shelter along the AT

Part of a backpacking experience in the great outdoors centers around camp life. After a long day of plodding through the wilderness (or hiking on the Appalachian Trail), the weary hiker arrives at a possibly pre-determined destination to set up camp for the night. He may choose to wile away the hours in the company of other pilgrims in an AT shelter or lean-to, or he may prefer the isolation of a remote tent site off the trail. Or perhaps he may decide to combine the two and set up his tent near a shelter. Whatever the camp preference for sleeping, all who backpack must find a place for rest when evening arrives.

Shelters or lean-tos (depending on which state you’re hiking in) are usually three-sided, wooden structures that may sleep anywhere from 6 to 18 or more. Some date back to the early years of the trail while others have been erected in the past decade. Even though shelters do not provide any of the amenities of a hostel or lodge, some can be quite comfortable. While some are only the three walls and a floor, others may come equipped with picnic tables and occasionally a bench on which to relax. Some have privies; others don’t. A few even have wooden bunks which allow the earliest to arrive, refuge off the floor. Some shelters were constructed with two levels and a few are made of stone.

If the exhausted hiker decides that he prefers the privacy of his own tent, then he is also charged with the task of finding the appropriate level spot, preferably located away from any dead branches hanging precariously overhead. The tent, of course, must be set up as well, which also means that it must be taken down the next morning. For most this is of little concern; however, for the novice hiker, set-up and take-down can require a considerable amount of time, at least in the early stages of the journey. Rather than tents, some hikers may prefer hammocks or mere tarps. Some even sleep in bivy sacks these days.

Then when the opportunity arises, there is that other means of overnight accommodations…..the hostel or more to my liking, the motel. Even though I love to hike, I’m not that enthusiastic about sleeping in the woods every night. Realizing, however, that there will be on occasion three or more consecutive nights that I won’t have any other choice, I’m trying to make good decisions regarding which sleeping bag and what tent to include as part of my gear. Still, if I’m within a few miles of a room with a shower, laundry, and restaurants nearby, I’ll always opt for a night in town over another night on the trail.

As the hike continues I’m sure I’ll get more accustomed to camping and just might eventually prefer a night in a shelter over a night at a Best Western. Then again, I might eventually prefer a Lipton side over a burger, fries, a soft drink or a milk shake. It’s not likely that either will happen while I’m hiking the Appalachian Trail, but I’m going to try to keep an open mind and entertain all my options. After all, a rested hiker is a hiker more apt to keep moving on. And moving on is what I hope to do.

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Where Do We Eat?

Breakfast at the Toymaker's Cafe in Falls Village, CT with my hiking buddy, Alton

Breakfast at the Toymaker’s Cafe in Falls Village, CT with my hiking buddy, Alton

Over the ten plus years that I’ve section hiked the Appalachian Trail, I’ve learned quite a bit about trail food. As stated earlier in this journal, on that first hike in New Hampshire, none of my hiking buddies nor I even carried a stove. In fact, it was not until the first section hike in Georgia from Springer to Neel’s Gap that I used one. Not wanting to make any more purchases than were necessary, I decided for that first trail cooking experience, I would make my own stove. Well actually, my buddy Fitts made it with me, or for me, depending how much credit I get for watching. The crudely constructed alcohol stove, made from a soft drink can and directions found on the internet, not only served me well on that short 31 mile Georgia stretch, but also sufficed for the Connecticut-Massachusetts section Alton and I would tackle the next spring.

Over the years I eventually changed to a canister fuel type stove, but neither really has made eating on the trail any more enjoyable. For my 2013 attempt at a thru hike, I’m still trying to decide whether or not I’ll even carry a stove. I probably will, but how much use it will get is yet to be determined. You see, I don’t much care for trail food, which leads me to what could prove to be a discourse on “eating well while hiking the trail.”

When my first Thru-Hiker’s Handbook arrived in the mail, I immediately scoured the pages, noting all those that had an M on them. That M, of course, stands for places along the way where a real meal may be found. One hiking motto that I faithfully follow is “never pass a restaurant, reasonably close to the trail, without having a meal.” Before each of my section hikes, I’ve planned somewhat based on the availability of a meal. While hiking that CT/MA section, Alton and I were able to enjoy a restaurant meal almost every day. And another good thing about town food is that after you finish a meal, you can purchase another to take back to the trail with you.

I’ve even been known to hitch into towns for specific eating establishments. On our hike of Vermont, I hitched a ride into Bennington for take-out, knowing that there was a Friendly’s there. In New York I hit every deli listed in the handbook. In New Jersey our first two days were arranged so that we could stop at a steakhouse just a few yards from the trail in Culver’s Gap. And by hiking south one day and doing another section north the next, Alton and I actually had breakfast three consecutive days at the same McDonald’s in Front Royal, VA. I know there will be times when there is no restaurant nearby, and that cooking on the trail is part of the experience. Still I won’t pass up an opportunity to dine in when it presents itself. Plus with my senior citizen discount, I might wind up only spending a few hundred dollars more by eating town food rather than trail food.

Obviously each hiker will have his or her own individual preferences as far as food is concerned. Many will begin the hike, stoves in tow, looking forward to cooking their ramen noodles and Knorr or Lipton sides. I probably will as well, yet I do know that as I head northward, I’ll need all the good nutrition I can get. For this hiker, there’s nothing better than beginning or ending a day on the Appalachian Trail than with a great meal, unless it’s doing both.

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