Musings of a thru-Hiker
By Gary Shealy
Of the hikers that claimed their gear from the Hawk Mountain shelter, one identified himself as a thru-hiker. The other two packs belonged to Ted and Nancy Peach, or Huff and Puff as they were known by their trail names. It is rather common for hikers to assume a trail name. This name is used in signing registers and leaving notes. Trail names vary from plants like Trillium, Pipsissewa, and Dandy Lion, to fantasy characters like Robin Hood, or simply descriptive names like Easy Strider and Freedom Walker. In some way the trail name captures a bit of the personality of the thru-hiker and serves to separate the participants in this journey from normal life identities.
The thru-hiker I met at the shelter was intent on making ten more miles, and so he had no time for light conversation. His lack of cordialness was annoying, or perhaps I envied him for attempting ten more miles so late in the day (interestingly enough over the next four months I never heard of him again). Huff and Puff identified themselves as long distance hikers. Huff is sixty-nine years old, and Puff is in her late forties. Last year they hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, and this year their schedule permitted a relatively short six hundred mile hike. Years earlier Puff had managed a thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail, and this time they would go as far as Pearisburg, Virginia.
Huff and Puff were friendly and most helpful. Immediately they remarked on the tremendous size of my pack. We briefly discussed the size and contents of my pack. This discussion served only to make me more weary. Huff politely offered that I might be carrying too much food. Indeed ten days of food is hardly necessary when Neels Gap is a mere thirty miles from Springer Mountain, and it is possible to resupply there. In fact, I was informed that I would probably never need more than five to seven days of food.
Of course I realized this, it had all been part of my intense trip planning. I decided that if I could manage ten to twelve days of food then I should need only ten resupply points from Georgia to Maine. This would reduce the possibility of missing a mail drop and having to stay in town from Saturday afternoon to Monday morning just to get mail. In general I assumed that the less time spent in town the better off I would be. Furthermore, I was only carrying three(3) extra days of food, so if I could tough it out for the first three days then the remainder of the week would be easy. By the time I reached my second mail drop I would be in much better physical condition and a few extra pounds would be insignificant.
I had gone to much trouble to ensure that my maximum pack weight was less than one-third of my body weight. I had carefully studied all of the available gear, evaluated the trade-offs, and chosen my optimal set. Base gear(pack, tent, clothes, rain gear, and one quart of water) weighed just under thirty-two pounds. Subtracting base gear from one-third of body weight left about twenty-eight pounds for food. Daily meals had been selected so that they weighed just over two pounds each. I added an extra water bottle and a few small items to round out the sixty pound pack.
Unfortunately all the work on paper was not panning out as expected. Undaunted I vowed to continue with pack weight as is, but to re-evaluate my strategy on a day-to-day basis. In Johnson City the logic seemed flawless. A few weeks of conditioning on the trail should take care of any weaknesses. Somehow the trail has a way of making a person rethink decisions made in the comfort of a cozy living room.
Huff and Puff did not like the looks of the campsite. The misfit's behavior had already alarmed these veteran hikers. They decided to push on for another 2-4 miles. I was invited to join them, but I declined. I wanted to continue, but I was already tired, and the discussion of my enormous pack size zapped any remaining drive.
I found a relatively flat area with the scout troop between me and the misfit's tent, pitched my tent, collected water from the ravine below the campsite, and went about the business of preparing the evening meal. The meal consisted of stroganoff with turkey, dehydrated, two Lipton soups, two ounces of mixed nuts, two hot chocolates, and the remainder of the first day's gorp - good old raisins and peanuts. I finished my evening chores and turned in for the night just after dark. In my tent I could not help but replay the pack weight discussion with Huff and Puff. I went through it over and over until I fell asleep.
The night passed with dreams of hiking. I arose early the next morning. It was cool as I began preparing breakfast. A morning routine was already being established and would soon become a habit. Soon the scouts were up and about, and camp became a noisy chatter. Sometime before the sun had fully risen, the misfit packed his gear and silently slipped out of camp. He was probably heading north.
The scouts enjoyed a rowdy breakfast along with a fine rendition of "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" by Jim Covenington, one of the scout leaders. Their rendition was suitable only for the deep woods. The troop was assembled, and gummy bears were passed out in honor of a birthday spent on the trail. They invited me to join them for the day. It seemed reasonable since I still had over 2000 miles to Maine, and by now their antics were amusing. Stimulated by the crisp morning air, we struck out anxiously looking forward to all the trail had to offer.
Copyright 1991-2000, all rights reserved
This is a fictional account of an actual Thru-Hike in 1990. Any resemblance to specific individuals or events is purely coincidental.