Sunday, February 5, 2012

Questions, questions, and more questions

While getting ready for my trip up the Appalachian Trail I spend more and more time answering questions that the average person has about the trail, gear, and what to expect. Of course some of the inquiries lead to surprise answers to my friends and family. There are a great many things they would never expect.

To the average person the Appalachian Trail is a hiking trail that they have heard of, but never really thought about. So when I tell someone the trail is 2184 miles this year their eyes usually get as big as saucers. Then the basic questions come: “Where does it start? Where does it end? How long does it take?”

For the uninitiated, the Appalachian Trail runs from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park, Maine. It is a long distance hiking trail that runs through several towns in 14 different states. The states are Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. The Appalachian Trail on average takes hikers six months to complete. Not all hikers that start the trail however get to complete their journey. Usually only half make it to the half-way point in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Even less make it to the end at Mt. Katahdin. Roughly a quarter of the starting hikers make it the distance.

The next question I usually get is: “Are you hiking with someone or going alone?” This is a loaded question. I’m starting alone… meaning I’m not taking anyone I know with me. Once I get to shelter and make camp I will meet other hikers. This may be common for me as I plan to start on March 1st. The 1st of any month in the season (March through May) is a common day to start the trail for many hikers. I expect I will meet more than my share of hikers, so I will never be alone. It is this communal experience that some hikers go for on the trail, others just wish to enjoy the solitude. I’m easy to get along with and love making new friends so this should be an interesting experience.

The most frequent questions usually concern safety on the trail... from bears and unsavory people. I get asked very often if I’m bringing a weapon on the trail. My answer… “nothing more than a two and half inch pocket knife.” Why not a gun? It’s too heavy and unnecessary. Bears, black bears to be more specific, generally are pretty docile unless you are too close to momma and her cubs. As with any animal that is capable of tearing your face off, the general rule of thumb is to give it a wide birth. Shooting at it will accomplish nothing more than scaring other hikers. As far as unsavory people on the trail… well if “unsavory” is determined by odor then I will be one of those unsavory people. Thru-hikers are one with each other and wish to do no harm to anyone or anything, but rather enjoy their peaceful sojourn in the wilderness.

Food gets hung from a tree. Anything that has flavor or wonderful aromas may need to be kept away from the hikers while they sleep. Having food nearby at night does invite a problem with black bears and other critters. Hanging food in a bear bag helps prevent such encounters. Not all hikers abide by this rule as they have other experiences that tell them otherwise, but you won’t catch me camped out next to them.

Another question: What do you carry with you?
Backpack, tent, sleeping bag (or in my case a down quilt), sleeping pad, cooking system, water filtration system, spare set of clothes, toiletries, food and water. What else do I need? I’m sure you’re thinking “that’s another loaded question!” You’re right. I haven’t a clue since I’ve never done this before. But in 25 days I will find out.

1 comment:

  1. I look forward to reading about your adventure. All I know about Appalachia is how poor and destitute the area had become since the mines were closed. I never knew the trail ran through NJ. See I already learned something from you. Not surprised the trail ends in Georgia and doesn't run down to Florida. Even the trail knows better than to come to the appendix of America (its there and was once useful but no body really knows what its good for now).