Appalachian Trail: Summary of a hiking day
Sorry for the mistakes, I'm writing this on a phone.
I had known things would be different on the trail, but it's still amazing to me the clarity that physical labor brings. If you ever want to know if you really need something try carrying it around on your back for a few days.
My keyboard is gone. So is my neatly crafted spice cabinet. As nice as it was I wasn't using curry powder enough to justify the ounces.
I'll walk you through a typical day. In the morning I'll wake up to the chirping of birds, usually between 6 and 8. Bear Squad sets alarms but rarely heeds them if we hear them at all. Sometimes our technologist, Highlander, will wake us up with the Indiana Jones theme or Rachmaninoff.
Bear Squad is always tired. You'd think it would be easy to sleep after walking fifteen miles uphill with forty pounds on your back, but you would be wrong because the trail is home to the most shameless degenerate snorers on this earth. Many nights I lie in my sleeping bag, breeze tickling my face, lulled by the whisper of rustling leaves, peace mutilated by the saw, bark, and roar of a dozen snores. It is laughably awful. Never have my thoughts dwelt more on homicide (note: this is a joke and I would be way too tired to execute these murderous fantasies, but really I think when I take a sleeping pill and put in ear plugs and I can still hear you chainsawing a cat with your lungs then it becomes your responsibility).
After dragging myself up I quickly unscrew the cap of my inflatable sleeping pad. This brings my butt into contact with the cold ground and prevents me from falling back asleep. I stuff my sleeping bag into its waterproof stuff sack and roll up my sleeping pad. A thin layer of sweat and grime covers everything.
If I'm tenting I'll unzip the door and the rain fly and then usually trip on my way out. If I'm in a shelter, which is like a three-walled structure that resembles a stage, I'll usually trip getting down. In either case I'll trip over the first five tree roots to present themselves on my way to get water. Water comes from a stream if your lucky and a trickle of damp if you're just average. I'm using a Sawyer to filter the water, viz, I squeeze it through a small tube with all the strength I can muster and then it's safe to drink. I have my doubts. Most people on the trail have filters, but they don't protect against norovirus. I am experimenting with different water purification systems.
Once I've fetched about two liters of water (two nalgenes) I'll lug it back to camp and join the other members of Bear Squad in making coffee and grunting. (Apparently I look like a pickled old man when I wake up but my companions don't look much better.) To make coffee we use camp stoves, which are basically valves soldered onto metal stands that we screw into small containers of flammable gas. They can pretty reliably heat two cups of oatmeal. My companions eat oatmeal but I don't because it is disgusting. Instead I'll shovel pb&j into my mouth until my gag reflex shuts it down. We all eat as much as we can. Our hunger is immense. We can never get enough calories. We are always eating. I ate a whole pizza about an hour before writing this (I'm in town) and I am already starved. I've lost weight.
To take down the tent I first unclip the rain fly an hang it up to dry. Even if there was no rain the condensation on the inside is enough to soak the rain fly on cold nights. I then pick up the tent and shake out all the dirt that snuck in overnight. The tent fabric is attached to the poles by clips, and once I remove these the tent loses shape and collapses. Depending on the weather and terrain the tent and tarp it sits in May also need to be dried. I'm sharing my tent with Cici, Bear Squad's marine scientist, and her help with all this is invaluable.
After stuffing our faces, we all cram our tents and miscellanea into our bags and stand around waiting for the last person to be ready, who is often I. This is due to my neurotic need to constantly double check my pack and see if I've left anything crucial behind. We also spend time attending to our feet, which are always bruised, sore, cut, bandaged and bug bitten.
We all stink. We smell awful. Just really bad. And I even wash whenever I can.
Then when we're ready, usually an hour two behind the "planned" departure time, we set off. Starting is the worst part. Your stomach is bloated. Your feet and and legs ache. Your blood moves slowly. Your pack straps cut into the grooves of rubbed skin on your chest and hips. Each step is murder and the slowness if your progress is impossible to ignore.
Slowly, the pain recedes. Your lungs remember how to work. Your blood speeds. Someone cracks a joke and you laugh. A conversation starts and more jokes and laughter. You barely notice the pointless ups and the pointless downs and the winding rock-treacherous flats. Sometimes you stop for wter or food, or to change the bandage on your toe. Before you know it a mile has gone by and then two and then ten and then two more and you're at the next campsite. You stop and take off your pack, and it's the greatest feeling in the world.
When we arrive in camp for the night we first set up our tents and then do laundry, if there is enough water or the water is close enough. We cook on or little stoves and scarf as much as possible to feed the Charybdis of our hunger. My favorite food is instant mashed potatoes. Four hundred calories, just add water, and you can eat them in the bag so I don't have to clean my pot after. Once we've eaten we shove anything that smells, food, deodorant, toothpaste, into waterproof bags. We walk around the woods looking for strong, high branches and then throw rocks ties to strings over them. This allows us to tie our food bags to the string, and then suspend them in the air so that bears cannot eat them. If there is a fire we sit around it and gossip. If not we crawl into our tents and try to fall asleep before we are overrun by snores.