Ups and Downs of the AT Shakedown
Hiking has its ups and downs. Literally and figuratively. I've had some time to reflect on my experience on the Appalachian Trail a week ago and have come up with 5.5 major/minor points of interest. Why 5.5? That's how many days I was on the Appalachian Trail. Check out quick facts and some cool pictures here. Number 1: The mileage.
Yes, I hit all my goals as far as miles per day, but did I have a good time? In the moment, some of the time was no, some of the time was yes. The fact I had to hit my miles everyday in order to make it to my car on time was stressful. This is something I'm looking to cut out of my Pacific Crest Trail experience. Eliminate unnecessary stress. On the PCT if I'm at a good point in the day, find an amazing campsite to see the sunset/sunrise, or am simply at a water source and want to relax. I'm going to do just that, camp/relax and enjoy the moment. This doesn't mean I'm going to go slower, but I'll have more flexibility and can listen to my body more about how many miles I want to do per day. In the food situation, I plan on carrying an extra two sometimes three extra meals to make sure I can do this and not run out of food.
Number 2: My Feet.
To get straight to the point, my feet were, again, shredded after this hike. I started getting blisters on day one after trudging through the snow in the Roan Highlands and had soaking wet feet all day, as well as wet socks the next time I put that pair back on.
I have been doing a lot of research since I got off trail about how to combat this and keep my feet healthy for a longer period of time on trail. So far, I've come up with getting a better fitting shoe. My feet did swell a little bit, but overall not too bad. I do have a wider foot though and the Capra Sports' proved too narrow. Therefore, I'm first ordering and trying out a new shoe. Second, I've been reading that when a hot spot develops, stop on the side of the trail and take care of it immediately. I have also read on thru-hiker blogs Leukotape is the way to go in terms of reducing friction and keeping feet happy. I will be trying this out as well as carrying a needle to pop blisters at night when I can provide a clean environment.
Number 3: Mental Health.
Going for 5.5 days solo on the AT was fantastic for the mental game. Normally, when I'm hiking in the woods alone, I always feel like someone is following me and jump at the first odd sounds. Not this time. I felt really comfortable by myself and really enjoyed the time in the mountains. I was able to assess myself at breaks with a neutral attitude, and tried to keep myself as happy as possible. On the down days, it is really important to make sure you know what can make you happy and how to deal with being down. I tried to think about all the other people who would love to be where I was at that moment rather than being where they are. I also thought a lot about my super supportive friends and family back home and sang some fight songs. It's all about keeping a cool head and dealing with what the trail gives you.
Number 4: Hitting the Wall*.
Boy, did I hit the wall some days. On the second day, I was heading up over Pond Mountain and had 5 miles to go until setting up camp for the night. The time of day was around 4pm, with the sun just starting to set and I had already covered about 20 miles. That second day had taken a toll on me with all of the uphill. I think I was still getting into the groove of how far a mile actually was and completely tired myself out mentally by thinking too much about where I was. Heading up the mountain I was thinking this will be quick up, fast down, and will have a nice dip in Watauga Lake before heading to bed.
My body had other ideas.
After easily cruising two miles up the mountain and having only another half mile or so to reach the top my body started shutting down. I tried Cliff ShotBlocks, Cliffbars, gummy bears, I had it in my pack I tried it. It came to the point I could barely stand up. I was leaning against a tree thinking this was it. I had buried myself** and I didn't know if I could get out, let alone walk another three miles to my campsite!
Slowly but surely, I put one foot in front of the other and trudged my way up the mountain. I learned a valuable lesson in caloric intake and hydration management this day. The next day was slated as my big 30+ mile day. I knew from the day before, I did not want to hit the wall that hard. Keeping the pace fast and the calories in, I would eat a larger amount of food this day, but thrived. I really enjoyed taking GU's, which seemed to keep me happy and my energy up.
Number 5: Gear.
How did my gear hold up? What do I wish I would have done differently?
Honestly, besides the shoes/feet everything worked perfectly. I was able to keep my pack at a very maintainable weight. I really enjoyed the use of my GPS for setting waypoints and looking at where other features were near me. My sleeping system/clothes layering worked perfectly, even in the coldest of nights (I woke up with heavy frost two mornings). I kept my feet elevated when I slept. The MSR PocketRocket held up really well and performed beautifully. Really, everything went and worked as planned.
Number 5.5: Trail Towns.
I was fortunate to stop in Damascus, Virginia as the trail wound through its city streets. The valuable thing I learned about trail towns is don't stop at the first place to eat you see. Survey your options and THEN choose. I did exactly the opposite. Also, pro-tip, before you cram two pounds of hamburger, three corndogs an ice cream sandwhich and a liter of cola into your body take a look at the elevation profile coming out of the town. I nearly threw everything back up, while cresting the first mountain out of Damascus. Other than that, be respectful of businesses and realize you probably smell a lot worse than you think you do.
*Hitting the Wall -Also known as bonking, feeling like you can't go any more, feeling fatigue in your muscles. It is a depletion of glycogen stores, basically your body saying stop.
**Burying Yourself - Often when you surpass the boundaries of the "Pain Cave" and you're in this deep, dark place. Often mentioned in cycling talk.
Overall, was it a great time? YES. Overwhelmingly, YES! I'm really feeling the itch now and can't wait to start in just over 50 days.