Hiking the Appalachian Trail #2
Springer Mountain to Mount Katahdin
103 days, 2,100 miles, May-Jul, 2009
My 3.3 months on the AT was just fabulous, fabulous, and more fabulous!!
But first of all, I would like to thank all the volunteers associated with the AT for keeping the trail in a hikable condition. Without them, my summer's journey would not have been possible. My AT hike was solo but I had a lot of help from Jenny. She put together my resupplies and was forever sending me things that I designed and wanted to try out. I was working on a number of ideas, and most of them required sewing. I would send her descriptions and drawings, and she would make the prototypes and send them to me. Then I would contact her again with various improvements. I was like a hiking field-testing machine.
I met hundreds of friendly hikers along the way, and stopped to talk with many of them each day. Especially during the second half of the trip. For me - and most other hikers - the many friendly hikers are what make the AT so special. That, and the natural beauty of the trail environs. Both were a big plus with me. For the first 2/3 of my trip I hiked reasonably high-mileage days, about on par with Jenny's and my AT hike of '93. But then I started thinking, "I have plenty of time, so why rush things. Besides, I'm probably missing a lot of what the experience has to offer." So I slowed down in order to enjoy the remainder of the trip all the more. I started hiking only 20 - 25 miles a day. Through the Whites I hiked even less, because I stayed at many of the huts. And from then on I started taking zero days at some of the towns along the way. I didn't have time to do this from day-1, but for the last 1/3 of the trip I sure had fun.
Then through the 100-mile wilderness - near the end - I hiked that stretch in five days. The final two days I was trying to beat hurricane Danny, but it caught up with me during my ascent of Katahdin - with lots of rain, very strong wind, and of course cold temps. So that last day sure heightened the sense of adventure. That last third slowdown would help explain the time-difference between our '93 hike and my '09 hike. But also there was another factor - the rain. The Eastern United States experienced a lot of rain this spring and summer, and the AT was greatly affected by it. So were the hikers. At least the weather was not hot and humid, like it was back in '93. I enjoyed hiking and camping in the cool temperatures. And due to my gear selection I didn't mind the rain - unless the sky was really letting loose late in the day. But also the frequent soakings slowed me down, because the trail was sometimes more like a creek, and often oozing with mud. Some hikers tromped through the deep mud. Generally they were the ones were sore feet. I tried to avoid the pools of water and mud by going around them - and this took a great deal of extra time, because it meant tromping through the brush instead.
Most AT hikers slept in the shelters every night, when not in hostels. I slept in only two shelters plus a few hostels. Otherwise I camped somewhere near the trail. I found the Ray-Way Tarp eminently suitable for camping along the AT, from one end of the trail to the other. Particularly in the rain. I would not have traded my tarp for a thousand tents. Those stealth sites were SO comfortable, and the tarp worked so well at shielding me from the rain, and left my quilt and my clothes bone dry. The tarp was a small (trimmed 2" from both the length and width) one-person, color white. Jenny sewed it back in 2004, and was exactly the right size for me on this hike. This same tarp is featured in Trail Life on pages 62 and 63. Mid-hike, I removed the side-guys made of flat-line, and replaced them with side-guys made of "Small Cord, White" of the type shown on our Order Form. This is the same cord we use on the corner guys in our Kits. (We are now specifying this in our Kits.) With the side-guys, only, I tied permanent, small (1") loops (overhand on a bite) at the ends, and simply ran the stakes through these. Also mid-hike, I developed a different knot for attaching the tarp ridge lines to trees. It is fast to tie, easy to adjust, and does not slip. I have described in my Tarp Book Essential. For the record: About 85 to 90 nights under the tarp.
97% of them with the tarp pitched between two trees.
3% pitched between one tree and one support stick.
0% pitched between two support sticks. I pitched my tarp over bushes or small trees about 40% of the time. Of course, a person cannot do that with a tent.
To keep the bugs at bay, I also used a Spitfire - a tent of netting hanging under the tarp. The Spitfire was my home for the summer. It was very comfortable. I pitched the Spitfire every night under the tarp - even when the bugs were not bad. It felt like crawling into a comfortable cocoon. The Spitfire has a waterproof floor and bathtub-type sides, and it is so small and narrow that I could move it around under the tarp to avoid any bushes or small trees growing under the tarp. On those chilly nights, my bug shelter helped trap some body heat. And it blocked the wind. That meant that I could pitch my tarp higher for more openness and better views all around. I designed the Spitfire as a new variation of our standard Ray-Way Net-Tent Kit, and am offering it in kit form. Its like our standard model, with a few minor changes - a fraction lighter and more bug-tight. My AT Spitfire had a urethane-coated floor, which is an option that I recommend for heavy use. While using the Spitfire, I found that I did not need tarp lifters. (Using a tarp without the spitfire, the lifters are important.)
Rather than a sleeping bag, I used a one-person Ray-Way Quilt. It had only one layer of insulation, and it worked perfectly.
For the first 1/3 of the journey, I used a quilt with our alpine insulation. Then when the weather warmed, I switched to one made with our Woodland (thinner) insulation. And when I reached the high mountains (Whites) I switched back to the first quilt made with one layer of alpine.
I used a Ray-Way backpack with no special modifications. It weighs about 9.5 oz. and carried my gear perfectly. It was just the right size, and when I had a load of food, I used the pack's extension collar. My pack had an outside zippered pocket, which because of the incessant rain I never used.
My book "Trail Life" is essentially a blueprint for my 09-AT hike, with exception of food. If a person reads and studies Trail Life, he or she will have a huge head-start on hiking the AT for him- or herself. See our Order Form for details.
A few facts about my AT hike: Start: Springer Mountain, Georgia on May 18, 2009 at 5:00 pm. Finish: Katahdin, Maine on August 29, at 8:30 am. Duration: 103 days. Average baseline pack weight: 8.5 lbs. I followed the white-blazing 99.76% of the way. I started the hike carrying six Tylenol pills for headache and pain, and ended the hike with the same six. I use none of them. For the first two-thirds of my hike, (more than two months) I camped on dry ground exactly three times. (read R-A-I-N) I slept in the shelters twice. With the first one, the shelter was full (with me included), but I wanted to find out what sleeping in a shelter was like. The second one, the shelter was empty except for me. Ordinarily, I camped in the woods because I found it far more comfortable. I found that the vast majority of AT overnighters stay at the shelters. They either sleep in the shelters or sleep in tents, tarps or hammocks next to the shelters. I see absolutely nothing wrong with this. To each his or her own. But again, of the 85 to 90 nights under my tarp, I camped within earshot of a shelter only twice. During the last third of my hike, I often visited a shelter late in the day because I enjoyed meeting the hikers and talking with them. But then I would move on. Also during the last third of my hike I enjoyed meeting the hikers at various hostels. Do I recommend an AT thru-hike? No; it's much too difficult. (I'm being comical here Despite the difficulties, did I enjoy it? Yes ...and more yes. Would I do it again? I'm looking forward to the next time!
NOTE: On most of our adventures, Jenny and I prefer to eat corn pasta. But not on the AT. This is because the towns are spaced so closely together that it makes more sense TO ME (always think for oneself) to dispense with the stove, fuel, cooking pot, and the time spent cooking, and simply to buy food along the way.
In Trail Life on page 146, I left a big hole, with no mention of food during our fourth long hike: the AT in 93. On that hike we did not cook, but bought our food in the stores along the way. This was a nutritional disaster, granted, but it did get us from one end of the trail to the other. I think we could have made more miles each day on corn pasta. But as it was, we averaged about 28 miles a day, with a whole string of 30's.
In '09, my longest store-less stint was five days through the hundred-mile wilderness in Maine. Starting out with that pack, I really felt the weight. The "food" I bought and carried that summer was really heavy. But ordinarily, while hiking high mileage days on the AT, one can usually reach a store about every 2 to 3 days. This was completely unlike our far-flung journeys, which most of them tend to be. So different rules apply.
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