I am not sorry about the fact that I am geeking out over a second summer of weekly Appalachian Trail hiking with my adventurous, strong, female friends! Last year a group of my teacher colleagues decided to start hiking sections of the AT in our area (Virginia) every Monday. We called it our hiking club, and it was one of the ways that kept me motivated and in contact with others during the pandemic lockdown of 2020. We completed several hikes: the Triple Crown (Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee’s Knob, and Tinker Cliffs), Cole Mountain, Mt. Pleasant, and a few others. This year we have a bucket list of hikes that we haven’t hit yet, and we plan on logging all our miles.
I’ve always loved adventure, have always loved hiking (some of my most favorite memories from my teenage years were a 3 day overnight backpacking excursion in the Rockies, and becoming familiar with the Smokies), but last summer, I fell in complete love. I dreamed about thru-hiking, I began researching backpacking packs and hiking poles, which tents, pads, and sleeping bags were the lightest, and generally read every article I could on what to know for beginners. One of the most memorable parts of the summer was reading Bill Irwin’s account (Blind Courage) of hiking the entire AT with his seeing-eye dog, and how hiking blind changed his life.
This season is not only one filled with a plan for what hikes to check off of the bucket list or the log of miles climbed, but what I hope to learn through the experiences. I have a couple of true narratives I want to read this summer to once again immerse myself in the hiking life. There is so much more to hiking than a really great workout, or even the view at the top of a summit. Hiking the AT has given me so many metaphors for life in regards to difficulty, disappointment, encountering the unexpected, faith, hope, perseverance, enjoying every detail, looking for the good, and thankfulness. This year I plan on taking a field journal with me on my hikes, as well as a few other essential items. Please allow me to geek out below.
I’m still building all my top gear for hiking, so I have had to prioritize what I collect over time. My first hiking purchase last year was to make sure I had hiking socks (merino wool) and a great pair of waterproof hiking boots. The boots have logged approximately 40 miles in the last year, and I’ve become a bit sentimental about them. They’ve seen me through many a muddy excursion and have been simultaneously hosed off and sun dried, and they are perfectly worn in. I have been building my wardrobe of moisture wicking clothing: see hiking shorts with zippy and velcro pockets (eek!), tank, and my AT cap and bandana. Next up on my wish list is a long-sleeve merino wool base layer, hiking crop pants, and a waterproof rain jacket (we got caught in rain a couple times last summer and I was fine, but it would be nice to have something waterproof). I always bring SPF, sunglasses, and bug spray. For day hikes I usually just apply SPF and bug spray and leave in the car so I don’t have to carry them. Not pictured are my flip flops and plastic grocery bag for my boots when we return from the hike. A small microfiber workout towel is great to spread out on the ground at the summit to sit on while having lunch. Also not pictured is my phone, which is definitely coming along for photos.
This year I decided to move from complete newbie hiker, as far as preparation goes, to gathering up essentials over time. I’m still an amateur, but a work in progress! Now I always carry a multi tool, a compact first aid kit (it even has a sling, emergency blankets, and a disposable cold pack), emergency water purification tabs (these were awesome when I was long hiking in Colorado), and a paracord bracelet with flashlight/flint/whistle/basic compass. My goal is to add a headlamp and a full compass to this essential gear. Admittedly, my water bottle is the largest and heaviest addition to my pack, but one of the most necessary items. One day I hope to purchase a daylight pack, like one from Osprey.
(And let’s not even get into what an overnight would look like! That is on my bucket list as well, but my gear would grow of course.)
This is a typical food package for me on a day hike: some sort of protein bar, jerky, nuts or trail mix, eggs, tough produce, and either deli meat or tuna/salmon. If I’m rushed I’ll make a PBJ sandwich in place of deli meat/fish, but it often doesn’t fill me up well. My food sits around 1,000 calories, but on a moderate to difficult 6-8 mile hike up a mountain, I burn around 1500-1800 calories. (I don’t really keep track of that rigidly, but like to have an idea about how much food to make sure I have with me.) Normally I will eat all of it within five hours of hiking, and I’ll space it out. I try to pack light, protein-heavy non-perishables, but I do love hard boiled eggs and I eat those first on the way up to keep me going. When I pack produce, I chose things that won’t’ mush, like berries or bananas, hence the apple and celery. Another packable option would be single serve nut butter.
Okay, friends. I will update later this week after our first hike on Memorial Day, which includes waterfalls and some rocky terrain. I’m dying to get my hiking legs back under me after taking a couple of months off. I’ll post photos probably Tuesday or Wednesday.
Here’s to a summer sabbatical of refreshment, development, and growth!