Monday, November 14, 2011

Final Thoughts

"How many do you think would have nerve enough to just camp in all of those remote places you did, let alone, scramble over those many high places where your cleats were barely gripping the slick rocks? Even now I can vividly see those almost impossible climbs and descents you crawled over with little mention in your writings. Your blog made it sound like a leisurely walk in some hills. But we know better, don't we?"

A former thru-hiker sent those words to me in an email, and I can't think of a way to better describe what's been going on in my mind the last month. (Has it been a month already?)

I don't know how many times Seth and I discussed this on the trail. We expected the transition back to "real life" to be an interesting and strange one, but I never imagined that in those first couple of weeks I would feel so isolated in the midst of familiar surroundings.

The conversation I remember most vividly took place on our second to last day on the trail. We had done thirty miles the day before, and were hoping to get twenty-five in that day. We were anxious and sad and exhausted. We were within minutes of Abol Bridge and the Baxter State Park boundary, and we talked yet again about the end and what it would be like to be finished. "How can we make them understand?" I remember saying. "Unless you've walked through days of mud and rain...", your hands and feet white and spotted with open sores from being wet for so long; unless you've sat cooking dinner getting swarmed by gnats or mosquitoes that buzz into your eyes and ears, that bite you through your clothing, that bite between your toes and leave your feet bloody; unless you've felt that anxious jump in your stomach that fills your entire body when your foot slips out from under you on a wet rock slab, and your mind has screamed that you can't fall again because every fall puts you that much closer to the one that ends your trip, and this might be the one, and it can't be the one because you're not done yet, you're not ready to go home; unless you've muscled across a cold, raging river and felt the relief when your shaking legs feel the solid ground on the other side and you've stepped out into 45-degree air with soaking wet feet and clothes; "unless you've walked through days and days of pain...", every step sending an awful pain through your foot and you've woken up the next morning and it's still there, and the next day, and the next day, and you've felt that same pain for every step of every mile for days and days and days; and unless you've seen that mountain rising in front of you and known there was no avoiding it, and you've pulled your exhausted body and aching feet up the rocky climb to be rewarded with a view of nothing but more trees..."How can you understand?" And just seconds after I said this we exited the woods onto the road that led to Abol Bridge, and in the distance was Katahdin staring down at us. We both stopped in admiration and I was crying...crying for the days I'd conquered, crying for the inevitable end, and crying at the thought that, No, no one is going to understand. 

It's hard to explain to people what I've done--"Did you have a nice trip?" "Yes, it was great."--is about the extent of it, but in my mind that adjective means a lot more than the simple fact that I enjoyed myself. Still, there is a part of me that doesn't want people to understand; I have something that's mine, and everyone else should find a peace of their own.

I think this will be my last entry. To everyone who followed me and encouraged me, thank you.

To everyone who dreams of an adventure, go do it.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

I Miss Living Out Of Ziplocs

A few people have asked similar questions so I figured it would be easiest to just write an entire post as a response!

First, food. FOOD. The number one discussed topic among thru-hikers. I ate easy food. In the beginning some people cooked elaborate meals for dinner but I never wanted to deal with the hassle. For breakfast I fell into the pop tart habit along with about every other person out there. And, I never got sick of them. There are so many flavors that you can constantly switch it up so you don't get bored. Most mornings I would wake up, feel that familiar grumble in my stomach, and be excited to eat my pop tarts for breakfast. They're just a bunch of sugar, yes, but a pack is about 400 calories of deliciousness. And yes, they usually turn to crumbs after a few days on the trail, but that first morning after town there's nothing better than opening a pack of pop tarts and finding them mostly intact.

For lunches, I cycled through about 3 combinations. In the beginning I ate peanut butter on tortillas and sometimes put gorp on top (this is surprisingly good). Once my appetite really started kicking in I was eating peanut butter all the time and I would run out if I ate it as my main course at lunch, so I switched to pepperoni and cheese on tortillas. String cheese is great for the trail because it's individually wrapped, although it gets a little slimy after a few days but it's still fine. Pepperoni keeps well too. Once it got hot I was worried that these wouldn't keep, so I started packing out packs of cheese and crackers or peanut butter and crackers. These things are lightweight and usually held up pretty well if I kept them together in a ziploc in my food bag. I would eat a pack of crackers and supplement with gorp or peanut butter. When it cooled down again, I alternated between eating those and pepperoni on tortillas again (I forewent the cheese to save weight), but toward the end all I could find in town were the cracker packs so I ate those every day for a few weeks.

Obviously I brought a stove with me and I can't express how nice it was to eat a hot meal at the end of the day. I always looked forward to dinner. Knorr rice and pasta sides were my favorite (teriyaki noodles are by far the best--add a blob of peanut butter and they're even better!) because there were so many varieties. I also would eat ramen a night or two in every stretch, and sometimes carried a pack in case of an emergency. Mashed potatoes were great too and were a quick, easy meal at the end of a long day, plus they're easy on fuel because you only have to heat the water, not even bring it to a boil if you don't want to. Again, you can find these in lots of varieties and you can add cheese or pepperoni or goldfish or ramen to switch things up. These three things were basically what I ate for dinner the entire way.

I liked to have a snack in the morning and sometimes the afternoon. For the morning I always packed out some kind of bar because they were filling and easy--granola bars, candy bars, protein bars, etc. When the days got longer it was nice to have an afternoon snack as well, so goldfish or some kind of cracker were nice to have, and they are really lightweight. Gorp was always a good filler although I got tired of that toward the end and didn't carry it as often, but for the first five months I always packed out gorp, usually peanuts, M&Ms, and craisins. A jar of peanut butter was a must as well; again peanut butter fills in the cracks. Just supplement each meal and snack with a couple of spoons of peanut butter and you're good to go. I wish I'd counted how many jars I ate out there. Candy bars are great too...I always craved something sweet after dinner so packing out cookies or candy was a nice treat.

I think my heaviest food bag was about 14 pounds coming out of Hot Springs, NC. By this time my appetite was in full swing and I think I had 5.5-6 days of food? After a few months your appetite goes back down a bit so the food bag got a little lighter; plus I was more conscious of the weight I was eating because it's really difficult mentally to hike out of town with a monsterously heavy pack (and it's always uphill out of town). I've read that a good estimate is 2 pounds of food per day, but I think that's a pretty generous estimate. You can get away with less than that, as long as you pack out food that's light but high in calories. Honey buns weight just a few ounces and the ones with icing have like, 700 calories. Peanut butter is kind of heavy but it's loaded with calories and as I mentioned earlier is a great filler.

Okay, now money. Not including gear, I would estimate I spent about $5,000 on the trail. But keep in mind all the zeros I took and the hotels I stayed in...if you stay in hostels or just stop in town instead of staying, you can go way cheaper. Food in town is another big expense; you want to eat as much real food as you can while you have the chance. And, let's face it, who has the willpower to eat a pack of pop tarts for breakfast in town when there's a McDonald's right down the street? Obviously you will spend money resupplying in town, but if you're on a tight budget just be mindful of what luxuries you can and can't afford. And always carry some cash because up north (Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine), you may have to pay to camp somewhere (this is crappy and can sometimes be avoided, but often pretty inconveniently).

I used Carhartt brand coolmax crew socks the whole way and I loved them. I found them at a bargain store for like $4 a pair and stocked up. They were thin but tough and I didn't get my first hole until New Hampshire I think. I did not wear sock liners; I didn't find them necessary and the extra bulk and weight would have been a hassle. I only got two or three blisters the whole way anyway. I saw a few people wearing Injinji toe sock liners and they said they really helped with blisters. I never used them but I heard a lot of people praise Darn Tough socks. Smartwools didn't hold up to the abuse.

Someone asked about hiking in the snow. I had waterproof boots in the beginning and I liked them. When it did snow, I was glad I had them at first, but my feet still ended up cold and wet; I think the boots just delayed it a bit. I would have been in the same situation in trail shoes. In a light rain boots will keep your feet dry but at some point they are going to get wet and they are going to take forever to dry out. It doesn't matter what kind of shoes you wear; your feet will get wet. When the weather got warmer I was having trouble with my feet sweating inside my boots all the time, and the skin was rubbed raw from never drying out. That's when I switched to trail shoes that breathed a little better. I wore these the rest of the way and there wasn't really ever a time I wished I'd had my boots back. Again, your feet are going to get wet no matter what; waterproof boots just might delay it a few hours. Oh, and waterproof shoes STINK, because they don't breathe at all. Waterproof breathability does not exist.

Honestly, I don't know what my base weight was. I would estimate it to be in the low twenties. My winter base weight was probably no more than two pounds heavier than my summer. I carried a pretty average-weight pack so you could definitely go much lighter, but I was comfortable.

I think I covered everything; if anyone has any more questions, feel free to ask!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

2,181 miles, 211 days, and 4,670 photos condensed into 4 minutes!

Before I started my trip I said that when I was finished, I was going to make a slideshow of my pictures and I was going to use this song. I finished. I made a slide show. I used the song. Here it is.