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Showing posts from May, 2016

Appalachian Trail bears, rain, snakes, hubris

About a week ago Bear Squad entered the Smokie Mountains. It was a steep climb from Fontana Dam and we got a late start as members of Bear Squad needed to pick up resupply boxes and secure permits to enter the park. At the park entrance there was a warning about norovirus and at that point I gave my Sawyer water filter to some passing day hikers. The sawyer is effective against cryptosporidiosis and giardia but doesn't stop viruses. Many people have said the springs are safe enough to drink from without treatment, but I use aquamira on all my water. As small as the chance of getting noro may be it's not worth spending three days evacuating all my vital fluids.Midafternoon first day in the Smokies the rain started and it hardly stopped for two days. Our hiking clothes were soaked. A frigid wind in the mornings compounded our misery. Day one in the smokies we startled a wild hog that dashed across the trail and left me clenching my sphincter. At first we thought it was a bear. E…

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…

Appalachian Trail week one

Where to begin? I sleep on the plane, head against the window, teeth rattling in my mouth like bingo balls. A brief train ride later and Survivor Dave ferries me to Amicalola Falls and the start of the approach trail. I enter the visitor center and register as a thru hiker. The park ranger is skeptical. "Did your ride leave already?" She asks. "Yep," I say "Good luck," she says. It dawns on me then that I'm alone in Georgia with only my legs to take me to Maine. The approach trail begins with anywhere between a hundred and a million wooden stairs straight up a waterfall. It's beautiful. It's murder. Beatles songs find their way into my head, and I sing to keep up my spirits. After passing a few tourists I am alone for hours in the woods. It is very quiet. But there is no rain and for that I am thankful. Around six I reach the summit of Springer mountain and the official start if the Appalachian Trail. There is a plaque to commemorate the occas…

Appalachian trail leaving day

I'm up until 2:30 a.m. doing God knows what. Seconds after my head hits the pillow my alarm blares and I shake myself awake. My brain is pudding.Dad is already downstairs. Mom has made coffee. She's left a note directing me to some leftover sandwiches and cookies. This, along with a bag of chow mein noodles, I throw into a plastic bag to serve as my carry-on.It's pouring rain. The roads to the airport are surprisingly busy."When did you get up?" I ask dad.
"Around three," he says. "I woke up and I couldn't fall asleep again. I had that song uptown funk stuck in my head. It kept repeating over and over again."
"I can see you lying awake, your analytical mind stuck in the hopeless task of analysing that song."
"What does it mean to funk you up?"
"Sounds dangerous."
"I guess it's a good thing, get funky, to make you funky?"
"But it happens against your will."
"What's the weather …

Appalachian Trail: An inauspicious beginning

It's two a.m. Something I ate gave me food poisoning. I've uncurled myself enough to write this in the hopes it will serve as a distraction. The pain in my stomach is immense. Tonight I will pray to the toilet.

Somehow, knowing I was to depart the 3rd of May, I convinced myself that was Wednesday instead of Tuesday. I've been looking at a calendar every day and still my brain was convinced of this lie. The loss of tonight to illness, and the loss of sleep, and the loss of the imaginary day are sores of worry. Still, the pain in my stomach makes it hard to think of anything else.

I've been sick before, and injured, many times, in lots of places, in ways that made think long and hard about mortality, even if there wasn't any real threat of shedding this mortal coil just yet. It's something that must come across in my writing, the attention to the visceral. (I can feel my own viscera right now, writhing around like snakes inside of me.) It always bugged me in sho…

Appalachian Trail socks

Socks. We all wear them. Or maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re barefoot or you wear flip flops. I think barefoot is the way to go, but there are some situations where you just need some padding.

These little foot robes are especially important when hiking, as they’re your main defense against blisters (assuming you have comfortable shoes).

In general you want something that wicks, that moves the moisture away from your skin. Wetness causes discomfort and abrasion and blisters. You probably also want something that’s durable, and comfortable, and if you’re in cold or wet weather you need a materiel that insulates even when wet. As far as I know that rules out cotton of any kinds (and I can attest that cotton socks are nightmarishly uncomfortable when soaked in foot sweat) and leaves you with either wool or a synthetic blend.

In the past I’ve gone with a system of two pairs of wool socks and two nylon liners, which are just super-light socks that go inside your socks and assist the mission…

Appalachian Trail Weight

If you aren’t familiar with hiking and camping it can seem bizarre how much attention is paid to weight. Seemingly innocuous comforts like sunscreen, deodorant, an extra mug for your coffee, are superfluous (well, depending on where you’re going you can make a case for sunscreen) and they can harm you more than they help just with the few extra ounces that they add. All of these ounces turn into pounds and then pounds then bcome ten or twenty or thirty or forty pounds that you’re carrying on your back. (My typical weight is between 30 and 40, which I think is heavy but I’ve seen a lot heavier). When you first put it on your back it might not feel heavy, it might not be that difficult to start. But it will weigh on you over miles, and tens of miles, and hundreds, and thousands of miles that extra weight will drag you down and drain your energy and your moral and increase the wear and tear on your body.As an aspiring ascetic, I find the process enjoyable (sometimes). You judge every ite…

Appalachian Trail food: super coffee

I don't usually drink hot coffee in the morning (too lazy to heat water) so I devised this little concoction to sneak in extra calories and protein. I call it super coffee--name suggestions welcome. Not too complicated, chocolate whey protein mixed with instant coffee. Proportions are about fifty fifty. I throw it in a water bottle and shake it up and it tastes like chocolate iced coffee. Shaking it all up in the coffee container. Was going to keep it in the coffee container, but decided to switch to a plastic Ziploc. It holds more and shrinks with consumption to make more room in the bear bag. It's important to double bag this puppy so it doesn't leak. Might ditch the oatmeal now and just go with this for breakfast.