Day 1 – Springer to Hawk Shelter

April 3 

Day 1 – Springer Mountain to Hawk Mountain shelter 9.0 miles

What a day! It’s near 5pm and I’m laying in my tent. I’m pooped. 

I’m so out of shape lol. 

It was a beautiful day – mid 60s and blue sky. Trail was up and down, rocks, roots and mud. But I made it. Barely. 

Met a lot of great people along the way. Spent the last hour hiking with a couple from Washington State. 

Doubt I’ll push myself tomorrow as hard. Next shelter is over six miles and no water in between. That means I had to fill up at a stream and will have to carry extra water tomorrow. I’m carrying 3 litres, or about six pounds. Ugh!

Anyways, I’m doing well. 

Camp area I’m at has at least another 20 campers. 

That’s it for now, soon it’ll be dinner time, then I’ll roll out my muscles and hit the sack. 

Friends – Thank you!

An unexpected detour on our way to Georgia, took us back to where we lived before we moved off-grid last year – Ottawa, Ontario.
Ottawa was my home for 16 years, so stopping in before my big hike was nice. Staying in a hotel and eating out feels like a luxury, and while it was a short visit, seeing friends was the best part.
I had an awesome hair appointment with my favourite hair stylist. Something about getting my hair done gives me a boost, especially since it’s been about a year since I last had it done.
Next, we went to Kanata to visit – hard to put into words – because friends doesn’t seem like the right word. You know who you are, and what you mean to me. For 10 years, you’ve been not only close friends, but you know more about me than anyone on this planet. Guaranteed had I not met you, and how you’ve encouraged me, there is no way I’d be attempting this hike.
Finally, we stopped at our favourite pub – one that I made close friendships with for over a decade – O’Grady’s Pub. Totally unexpected, the night was magical in a way. From old friends to new acquaintances, I was able to share my pre-Hike jitters, worries and dreams. Your encouragement and well wishes hit me emotionally and will not be forgotten. I knew I had friends at the pub, but not that many. I mean, who come from NY state early to see me off? And, who returns from Cuba, to not go home, but to come to the pub and wish me well. Awesome! Unbelievable.
I could name names, but I won’t, but you know who you are. You all made me feel special last night for the challenge I’m undertaking. Your kind words, your interest, and positive vibes will be remembered.
I wish I could have spent more time in Ottawa to see everyone, but I will be back.
Today we drive to Guelph, the Cincinnati tomorrow, and finally Georgia on Sunday. While I’m a bundle of anxiety, this recent trip will comfort me.

Thank you.

When the times get tough…

Interesting I was thinking about this today the parallels between hiking the Appalachian Trail and my time in the Canadian military. When I was 18 years old I enrolled in the military and was sent to Cornwallis, Nova Scotia to begin 10 weeks of what I didn’t know at the time was to be the hardest 10 weeks of my life.

Boot camp training sole purpose is to make you suffer both physically and mentally. The ultimate goal is to break you down from being a civilian into a military minded person and then to build you back you back up.

For 10 weeks I endured verbal abuse, called every name in the book to the physical day-to-day grind. Each day began around 4 AM whereby we would be up scrubbing scuff marks off of floors, cleaning our rifles, making our beds folding clothes and polishing boots all in anticipation of a 7 o’clock inspection. Each and every day we had these inspections and of course, my superiors always found fault with something. Some days they’d toss all my clothes out the window. Other days, they tip my locker over.

The physical aspect of boot camp training was very difficult. Each and every day and involved marching, running, exercise and swimming. All meant to build you up to get you stronger. Some days we had to jump into a pool with all of our combat gear and tread water for five minutes. Other days we had to do obstacle courses. This was all getting ready for the final test that happened in the 10th week where we had to run with a full pack and rifles for 25 km. And just when you thought you had completed the task, you then had to complete a gruelling obstacle course and finally a fireman‘s carry with someone heavier than yourself.

How I made it through the 10 weeks, I don’t know. Our platoon started with 160 individuals and graduated with about 35. When I think of the Appalachian Trail and the challenges that face me, the challenges are going to be both physical and mental. There will be days that I want to quit. Hikers say you never quit on a bad day.

I wanted to quit boot camp, but I didn’t. I fought through it. I know I can do the same on the Appalachian Trail.


Two more weeks

The long wait is over, less than 14 days until I begin my hike. The anticipation is killing me, that I wish I could begin today.

I belong to a couple of Facebook hiking groups that helps me stay connected to the Appalachian Trail. I’ve learned so many great tips from not only successful hikers, but also what went wrong with those who didn’t finish.

Reasons why many quit are running out of money, fatigue, bad weather, not physically able to go on, and of course injury. It is the latter – injury – that freaks me out. Just today, I read that one person fell and broke her arm, while another tore their Achilles heel. Yikes!

In 2018, 4,650 people attempted the Appalachian Trail – 870 completed the gruelling 2,190 miles. That’s less than 1 in 5.

I imagine that the first couple weeks will be rough. I’m unable to train as we’re still living in below zero temperatures and a couple feet of snow. While I do get out and at least walk, snowshoe and other chores, it is the elevation training that will be the real test.

Next week we’ll be leaving for the US, expecting to be in Georgia on March 30th. I’ll have a full day to stock up on supplies at REI and WalMart that I couldn’t bring across the border.

Hopefully the weather will cooperate and I’ll set foot on the trail Wednesday, April 3rd. Let the fun begin!

By The Numbers

3,527 – # of kilometres from Georgia to Maine (2,192 miles). Equivalent to walking from Ottawa to Calgary. This amounts to approximately 5,000,000 steps, a number sure to fill your step-tracker-wearing friends with envy.

From REI website:

14 – The number of states the AT crosses. From south to north: 1. Georgia 2. North Carolina 3. Tennessee 4. Virginia 5. West Virginia 6. Maryland 7. Pennsylvania 8. New Jersey 9. New York 10. Connecticut 11. Massachusetts 12. Vermont 13. New Hampshire 14. Maine.

16 – The number of times an AT thru-hiker would climb up Mount Everest. Compared to trails in higher elevation mountain ranges, many falsely assume the AT to be relatively flat. In fact, over the course of the Appalachian Trail’s 2,192 miles, thru-hikers gain and lose over 464,464 ft., or more than 89 miles.

165 – The number of days it takes the average person to complete a thru-hike. Thru-hike durations can range from a full-year to a blistering 46 and a half days (the current speed record), but most will complete their 2,192 mile trek in five to seven months, with the average being “a week or two shy of six months,” according to the ATC.

6,643 – The highest elevation in feet along the Appalachian Trail, at Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

124 – The lowest elevation in feet along the Appalachian Trail, at Bear Mountain State Park in New York. (Although many report their low point being the day they finish.)

99 – The percentage of the trail that has been relocated or rebuilt since its creation. The ATC estimates rebuilding or relocating nearly all of the trail since its creation in 1937.

241,936 – The number of volunteer hours that went into maintaining the Appalachian Trail in the federal fiscal year ending in September 2014. This amounts to over 10,000 days of volunteer work from 5,617 volunteers, the second highest number of volunteer hours since the ATC began tracking this information in 1983. (source: the ATC’s Laurie Potteiger)

31 -The number of maintenance clubs that serve the Appalachian Trail. The ATC oversees 31 distinct clubs, whose duties range anywhere from “maintaining existing trails and painting blazes to excavating trail reroutes and building new shelters,” according to Appalachian Trails.

165,000 – The approximate number of white blazes marking the Appalachian Trail, according to the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club. This averages out to about one white blaze every 70 feet. Since the trail is so well marked, many thru-hikers forego carrying maps (87% according to a recent ATC survey), and instead opt to carry a guidebook.

5,500 – The number of calories required for a hiker* to maintain his or her body weight during a typical day of backpacking. In other words, a hiker could eat 11 Big Macs throughout the day and still be at an energy deficiency. Typically, after a few weeks on trail, many thru-hikers achieve the celebrated “hiker hunger,” a near-inability to be sated by any amount of food. Oftentimes, it’s a hiker’s budget, not appetite, that constrains their in-town binging.

*Assuming 8 hours of backpacking for a 25-year-old male hiker weighing 155 lbs.

1/2 – In gallons, the amount of ice cream many thru-hikers eat in a single sitting at the halfway point. It is customary for AT thru-hikers to attempt (and typically, succeed) to eat a half-gallon of ice cream at the convenience store closest to the halfway point on the Appalachian Trail. Many need less than 15 minutes to accomplish the feat. For those keeping score at your desk, a half-gallon is four pints, or 2,300 calories. Don’t try this at home.

30 – The average number of pounds lost by thru-hikers during their journey. Despite the halfway-mark ice cream, the vast majority of hikers face severe calorie deficiencies during the span of their thru-hike due to a strenuous workload. Although most hikers practice a “see food diet”—see food, eat it—it’s not uncommon for thru-hikers to lose upwards of 50, 70, or even over 100 lbs. during the course of their half-year trek. This is not a hard and fast rule, as some hikers lose no weight or even gain a few pounds.

4-5 – The number of pairs of shoes most thru-hikers go through. In general, if you can get 500 miles out of your footwear, you’re doing well. Some can stretch this even further, depending on the shoe’s durability, a hiker’s weight (including pack), maintenance protocols, and ability to avoid stepping on sharp edges. Certain terrain, like the extremely rocky trails of Pennsylvania, will chew through footwear at a much faster clip. This is an anecdotal estimate, although I do have the good fortune of interacting with many dozens of AT thru-hikers each year.

4 – The average number of miles between road crossings on the AT, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC). “How do you eat?” is a common question of those who are planning on thru-hiking. The answer is, “quite easily,” as access to the closest town—and thus grocery store, deli, or post office—is typically never more than a few days away, and often much less than that.

78 -The percent increase in 2,000 milers in the 21st vs. the 20th century per the ATC. Due to the skyrocketing popularity of the AT and thru-hiking in general, the number of 2,000 milers, “a hiker who has walked the entire length of the Appalachian Trail,” over the last 15 years will likely double that of the previous 63 years. For reference, the first reported 2,000 miler was in 1936.

87 – The percent of thru-hikers who attempt the traditional northbound route. The vast majority of those who attempt an Appalachian Trail thru-hike begin at Springer Mountain, Georgia and hike north to Mount Katahdin, Maine. It should be noted that the ATC is urging people to take alternative approaches, such as southbound and flip-flop thru-hikes, to combat the increasing volume of hikers and limit the impact to the trail.

*Based on 2014 numbers, which is consistent with other years.

262 – The number of shelters on or along the trail. The AT is lined with more than 250 three-walled structures which serve as refuges for hikers, averaging out to approximately one shelter every 8 miles.

25 – The percent of female 2,000 milers. Although anecdotal reports says that the percentage of female thru-hikers is on the rise, the ATC reports that only one in four 2,000 milers are women.