Musings of a thru-Hiker

By Gary Shealy

Hawk Mountain

                 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.