This past week we walked into two major thru-hiking milestones: the NC/GA border and the 100 mile mark. In doing so, we feel that we have already gained a good bit of knowledge and experience about what it takes to thru-hike.
This has probably been one of the biggest “keys” for us so far. There are moments, more often than we’d like to admit, when we are climbing a steep incline or pulling a long mileage day where the only thing keeping one foot moving in front of the other is the thought of a juicy hamburger waiting for us in the next town or the steaming hot shower that’s going to wash all the stink off.
After we decided to take our first unexpected zero day and we wrote our last post, we also realized the importance of constantly telling yourself, “dude you deserve this!!”
So obviously now we tell ourselves that about basically everything: long lunch breaks, new guilty-pleasure snacks we’ve added to our food bag, unplanned near-o days into towns, a low mileage day in the middle of long days, a splurge of a nice meal, staying in the sleeping bags until 9, etc.
We are basically the King and Queen of the “treat yo’self” mantra dubbed in Parks and Rec.
It’s so important, y’all. It really is.
When you can convince yourself that walking eight miles is a REWARD, then you’re doing it right. But when you can also convince yourself that you literally deserve to eat a 2,000 calorie lunch…you know you’re thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. 😉
Don’t Isolate Yourself
Before we started, we had this big idea that we wanted to be alone the whole time. We were fearful of other hikers latching onto us or being in crowded campsites because we thought it might somehow adulterate our experience as newlyweds and we didn’t want that to affect our writing the book.
Boy were we WRONG.
The first week or so, we really didn’t see many other hikers on the trail. And if we did – we would make small talk but still try to isolate ourselves from their experiences. But once we realized how detrimental doing so was to our mental health, we were also given a chance to meet up with some really great people.
The past few days we have been hiking to the same destinations as a few other guys and it has been a total game changer for us. We still have our time during the day to experience this thing together, one-on-one as newlyweds, but at camp we get to share the time with others’ stories, opinions, experiences, etc. It is extremely encouraging to see familiar faces and share in the excitement of another day in the books with new-found friends. We’ve come to realize that it’s truly what this thing is about!
Why we ever wanted to isolate ourselves from one incredible community, a new family if-you-will, baffles me. The people we have met either on the trail or in the places we have stopped have lent so much encouragement and joy unto our journey and I can’t imagine it being any other way.
People don’t infringe, they enrich.
Zip Your Sleeping Bags Together
BEST DECISION EVER.
The first few nights on the trail, we each slept in our own mummy bags and, honestly, everything was ok that way. But let me tell you something. When you’re used to falling asleep spooning and waking up spooning, being completely enclosed away from your big spoon is no bueno.
So one night, one that we knew was going to be quite chilly, we decided to try zipping our sleeping bags together. We figured the added body heat would ensure warmth to even the coldest nights, so why not give it a try!
Guys, YES. GO GET YOU A SPOUSE AND ZIP YOUR BAGS TOGETHER.
Not only are we staying extremely warm now, we also get to still enjoy our physical touch at night — which is enriching our marriage. It has introduced a little bit of normalcy to our nights in the tent, but has also been a huge relief to the strains this venture can put on a person.
Knowing I get to snuggle with my best friend at the end of a really tough day actually makes me walk a little faster to camp 🙂
So even if you’re married and don’t zip your bags together or if you’re single and don’t have that option, find something that is comforting and introduces normalcy to your life in the backcountry. It’ll work wonders, promise!
Take Time to See What You See
The day before we crossed into North Carolina, we stayed at the Top of Georgia Hostel and Hiking Center. Our stay at this hostel was such a treat! As soon as we arrived, one of the volunteers slapped free sodas into our hands congratulating on making it 70 miles. After some easy paperwork, they showed us to our pet friendly bunk room.
We cooked a pizza in an oven, showered, and chowed down on quite possibly the greatest frozen pizza the world has to offer. We ended up sitting out on the quaint front porch sipping on coffee and tea (which was also complimentary with our stay) for hours talking to all of the lovely volunteers.
The staff there are all veteran thru-hikers with loads of experience and stories. They are eager to talk and encourage you to have a successful trip. Plus, they will make you laugh like you have never laughed before!
After our fill of beverages and encouragement, the staff shuttled us (for free) into Hiawassee, Georgia for dinner and a resupply. By the end if the night, we felt like royalty…which far exceeded our expectations!
The next morning, one of the volunteers gave an encouraging talk including the ten rules of thru-hiking from the owner of the place (Bob Gabrielsen, a triple crowner). One if those rules is to “take time to see what you see.” This means that you need to spend time actually absorbing the things that you are seeing and experiencing. Don’t get distracted with logging a certain number of miles everyday. Rather, tike time to go off the trail to see a vista or sit by a pleasant stream or stay at a particular place. We have adopted this rule as our guiding mantra and have found that taking notice of everything-the big and the small-leads to a much richer thru-hike.
Pause for ALL Water
If you live in the Southeast, you probably know a good bit about the drought from the past few months. The Appalachian Trail was an unfortunate victim of the lack of rainfall. In our guidebook, we have a list of all of the places on the trail where there is supposed to be a reliable source of water. On many occasions, however, theses places that normally have flowing streams are completely dried up.
There were a few days in Georgia where we did not pass any water! As a result, we have been carrying extra water to ensure that all three of us (we always have to remember our sweet Pneuma) are well hydrated. All of this is to say: whenever you see water -WHENEVER- go ahead and fill up your bottle even if you are just topping off. Your mind and your body will be much happier knowing you have water for the whole day.
Listen to the Small Things
A lot of people who have completed this thing have told us, “don’t let the small things turn into the big things”. This can take on a lot of different meanings, but it’s typically said to warn against injuries. You know, stuff like treating hot spots before they become blisters.
This one hits pretty close to home for me (Morgan).
Some of you know, many of you don’t, that I had two major foot surgeries leaving me with a massive chunk of metal and seven screws in each foot: first in December 2014 and again in June 2015. We each knew that listening to my feet was going to be a huge priority, but we weren’t sure what that was going to look like.
It’s pretty common for anyone walking long distances with a 30lb backpack on to complain about their feet being sore, so I had a hard time deciphering what was common and what was surgery-related. But I started noticing around day five that I had quarter-size knots forming underneath the hardware on both of my feet and I knew it wasn’t normal. I started standing on tips of rocks to stretch my feet out throughout the day, but around mile seven of each day until the next morning, I couldn’t get my foot muscles to relax out and it was freaking me out! I figured it might be shoe related, so Log and I decided that it’d be good for me to look at new options once we arrived to Franklin, NC.
There’s a shop here, Outdoor 76, that is well-known for being footwear specialists so we headed straight there after securing our room at the Budget Inn. We walked in and told the guys there I might be in the market for a new pair of shoes, not knowing that the next THREE HOURS would be the best customer service we could ever ask or even dream of.
Cory, one of the owners of the store, sat me down on a bench and began asking me all kinds of questions about our hike so far, what our pace has been, then into my specific foot needs. He was so knowledgeable about the human foot and what it needs that I’m convinced he could be a licensed podiatrist! After taking several measurements of my feet that no footwear employee has ever taken before, he told me something I never expected to hear: I’ve been wearing the wrong size shoe for my entire adult life.
The way most of us decide our shoe sizes is by picking the pair our toes meet the front end of, right? So my toes measure at a 7-7.5. Guys. My arch, the one I didn’t even think I had, measures 2-2.5 sizes BIGGER than that! What the heck, right?
So Cory ends up bringing out a slew of shoes for me to try on, not telling me what size any of them were, and asking me to describe the fit/feel of each one so we could narrow it down from there. Once we found my absolute dream shoe that felt like I was walking on clouds, he went through a long process of finding and custom-fitting orthotic insoles that would ensure my feet were taken care of.
Y’all, I have never been so confused or satisfied in my life with a pair of shoes. I walked out with a size 9 (what!!!) pair of The North Face boots that I’m convinced I will wear to my grave. I instantly felt relief from the pain in my feet!
I’m so thankful for the knowledge that Cory had about feet, but I’m even more thankful that he chose to spend the time it took to find the right shoe for me. All of the employees there engaged us in conversation before we left and I honestly feel like I gained four new BFFs out of them. Hands down the most friendly crew I’ve ever encountered in the coolest venue around town.
All of this to say two things: everyone should experience at least one shoe consultation with the incredible folks at Outdoor 76 and listen to your body.
If something feels wrong or “off”, something needs to be changed or cared for. I really believe you can never be too careful when it comes to your health out here in the woods!
Hike Your Dog’s Hike
Whenever we post a picture to Instagram, two or three people always ask us how our dog is handling her thru-hike. She absolutely LOVES it! All of our fellow hiking companions always comment on how happy she is and how much they love seeing her.
BUT, thru-hiking with a dog is not a walk in the park. While I carry our food in my backpack, Morgan has to carry the majority of Pneuma’s food in her pack. Pneuma can only carry 25% of her body weight in her pack, so Morgan ends up carrying an additional 6-8 pounds in her pack.
As an eight month old dog, Pneuma is usually energetic. On steep ascents, however, she can get tired very quickly. When she does get tired, she tells us…by plopping down on the ground and taking a short nap (which is a nice break for us as well)! And on days where she can’t seem to make it up a mountain, we take her pack off and carry it for her (which adds another 8-10 pounds to our packs). As dog owners, it is important to listen to your dog’s needs at every moment of the day. You need to hike your dog’s hike and NOT your own hike.
Our gal has also learned the in’s and out’s of backpacking these past two weeks. Pnuema knows to stay on the trail when hiking and to get off the trail when she needs to use the little dog’s room. She knows where our water bottles are and will jump at them when she needs water. She has found the warmest spot in the tent is on top of the sleeping pad or cuddled up next to mom and dad’s zipped together sleeping bags. And she also knows how to encourage other hikers by letting them pet her until the cows come home. Overall, we are quite proud of our thru-hiking puppy.
Don’t Stick to the Schedule
For those that know us, you know that we aren’t necessarily the “planning type.” We always try to live adventurously, take risks, and live life to the absolute fullest. We also are young married people that have really rad parents that love us immensely. That’s why we created a full-blown day-by-day spreadsheet itinerary for our families to sleep easily.
For the first few days, we stuck to our plan fairly well-8 miles a day and no more. We quickly realized, however, that the spreadsheet is a blessing and a curse. Such rigid structures can either force you to go less than you want to or go way further than your body should.
If you do make a spreadsheet and a detailed itinerary, please don’t stick to it as a rule of law. Listen to your body. If you can go 12 miles instead of 8 without putting extra strain on your feet, then go for it! If you need to call it a day early because your pup is tired or your hips are too sore, then go for it! Don’t be bummed if you can’t log the amount of miles you were planning. And feel free to change your pace as your body tells you. Don’t allow your schedule to dictate your happiness.
Add Variety to Your Meals
Hiking 12 miles a day can really do a number on your hunger level. You might have heard of “hiker-hunger” (the infectious disease that plagues thru-hikers, which produces an absurd ability for these individuals to consume gargantuan amounts of calories in a given sitting). Let us tell you, we can already begin to feel the hunger set in as we are on our last few miles for the day.
When dinner time finally rolls around, scarfing down your ramen or jerky or peanut butter comes with great ease! We have learned, nonetheless, that you will want to add variety to your meals so that you don’t get bored eating the same thing everyday. Throw some pepperoni and cheese into your ramen at night for “ramen pizza” or bring along some dark chocolate to appease your sweet tooth or trade foods with other thru-hikers. However you can, be adventurous with your meals and treat your tastebuds with generosity!
Thanks for reading and following us along on our adventure!