Okay, so we were aware that this year the Appalachian Trail is 2,189.2 miles long – but in a way I think I am learning that having heard/read/thought about it is very different from knowing what it is we were undertaking. As of now we are on Day 18 of our Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike, and approximately 160 miles in and I think I have a better grasp on just what it is that we are endeavoring to accomplish. It is hard to truly describe how much we have encountered and experienced in our first couple weeks on the trail, but luckily between the two of us we do have some photos to help!
Hey, How do you ride a Harley up here?!?
First off, I think that our plan to tackle the trail in a non-traditional route has been right for us. By flip-flopping and starting in Virginia we have had the benefit of gorgeous weather thus far (though it looks like the rain we have been missing may have caught up to us…) as well as relatively easy terrain. While moving from 14 feet above sea level to climbing mountains with a hefty pack on our backs has taken some effort and pain, we are able to break in our legs and feet before the going gets really tough. This has also allowed me to take advantage of some friends for trail magic, as well as family friends from scouting and scuba! My friend Andrew allowed me to leave my beloved truck with him for the duration of our adventure, and after a week on the trail we were near another college friend of mine who allowed us to crash and re-supply with her beautiful family (thank you Andrew, Avie and Rodney!!!). As of now we are enjoying the remainder of our zero (miles) day in Front Royal with Scott and Kathy and their beautiful family, who I had never had the pleasure of meeting before but were so kind as to open their home and hearts to two temporarily smelly hikers.
Our first white blaze- and contemplation of the journey ahead?
We started the journey about mid-day on May 16th, as Andrew was kind enough to drop us off at the trail close to Buena Vista, Virginia. While very convenient logistically, the immediate 2,000 foot elevation gain as we started the trail was a terribly stark reminder of why you want your pack to be as light as possible (mine was not- as evidenced by the hulking bag as seen above). However we were gifted with a gorgeous bald on top of Cole Mountain, and it was only around 6 miles to the first camp site we stayed at. Our first week I think that we managed to get a wonderful overview of the trail and a taste of what the rest of our journey has in store for us. We jumped from a 6 mile day, to an 8 mile day, to 10 miles and then took a nero (near zero mile) day where we did 4 miles and retired to a gorgeous campsite to hang out, read and relax a bit. We made up for our relaxing day by waking up at 4 am the next morning to get a bit of a pre-dawn hike in, as well as to tackle the Three Ridges Mountain. Waking up so early had the benefit of giving us wonderfully cool weather and less crowded trails as we made the steep climb from around 1,700 feet to 4,000 feet- and if the climb hadn’t been enough to wake us up the note on the trail warning about rattle snakes certainly did the trick!
On top of Three Ridges Mountain!
In our first couple of weeks we did manage to come up with Trail Names for one another. It was day 2 when Colby had been hiking behind me and presumably had seen enough of my flat Iron Mike to come up with the name Iron Maiden to match. I imagine most people will associate it with the band (though neither of us has listened to much Iron Maiden), though it took me a few days of going by Iron Maiden to recall that it was also the name of a (perhaps fictional) torture device… hmmm. In turn I was not coming up with anything terribly clever or original for Colby- but he had a Founder’s Brewery sticker on one of his trekking poles and I found that thinking of various possibilities for the acronym IPA to be rather amusing. While it is his favorite type of beer (Indian Pale Ale), he had a lot of knee pain the first week and so Ibuprofen, Pain Again or Internal Pain and Agony both seemed appropriate. Thus we adopted the trail names.
Iron Mike- thanks to the History of Diving Museum in Islamorada, Florida
Since hopping on the trail we have stealth camped three times (camped outside of the camping spots that are developed for hikers, typically near the shelters or huts)- while the privacy and quiet can be extremely pleasant, the ease of knowing that there will be decent places to hang around the shelters (as well as available water sources) does make them ideal.
A picturesque camping spot- where we nero’d
We experienced one somewhat rainy day our first week (and a deluge a few days ago!) but otherwise the weather has amazing. Even the rainy day was incredibly beautiful. Being so high up the clouds descended and left an opaque curtain of mist in the woods.
Misty Mountain Hop- or Hike
We have also seen a ton of the local fauna and flora. Tons of spring wild flowers that I have no idea what they might be, but they are stunning and occasionally you catch a whiff of them on the breeze. We have seen one rattlesnake (which I did not realize was right beside the trail until it gave me a rattle!) and multiple other snakes of various sizes, from inches to perhaps as long as 6 feet. We’ve also encountered many unwary deer, some of which have strolled beside our camp or watched us as we filtered our water while seeming rather disgruntled that we were in their favorite watering hole. One day we saw 12 red efts, or red-spotted newts, alongside or on the trail itself.
Colby said that “Eft Again” would be a good trail name, too bad we already had trail names!
Trekking Poles- they also double as Rattlesnake Detection Poles!
As of now we have begun to tackle 10-13 mile days more regularly, pacing about 30 minute miles. During the first week I think we both experienced our own aches and pains. Colby (IPA) had some knee pain from all the steep down hills. I was experiencing discomfort mostly from my hip straps, and the bottoms of my feet hurt from the many heavy steps each day. Now I think that while we may still get sore or tired, the same aches have diminished and all in all we are feeling stronger and more comfortable hiking day after day.
I’ve begun to notice that we have our own routine much like life before the trail, but now it is focused around the necessities of hiking. Making and breaking camp, filtering water, planning shelter stops and towns for re-supplying food. Life has condensed to the green tunnel that is the A.T. While of course it is wonderful to hear about friends and family, our lack of phone signal tends to keep us out of touch with the rest of the world. It has been wonderful to wake up and plan each day as it comes and to decide where to hike based on our energy and desires day to day.
Thanks to everyone for all of the support and assistance- it has been wonderful knowing that we have so many supporters and people rooting for us!
Hey everyone, Colby (I.P.A.) here. Alyssa (Iron Maiden) has delightfully detailed out our first couple of weeks out here on the trail. I just wanted to add a couple of my own thoughts. I’ve realized after a couple of days out here that a mile on a mountain is unlike any other mile I’ve ever walked in my life before. Now, to be clear, the trail is very well marked and easy to follow, I even sent my stupid compass home. And the people out here are amazingly nice and most everyone is courteous and helpful.
Climbing these mountains on days one and two were not that bad physically (even though we started going straight up); a little soreness creeping into our legs and shoulders and such, but not too excruciating (of course under my breath I’m cursing every ounce I’m carrying on my back that I don’t think I need to keep me alive). After days three through seven, however, I was kind of asking myself why I decided to Interview the Pain Angel again. I was hurting. If any of you fine folks ever want to experience what it is like on a mountain with a heavy pack on days three through seven, I’ve thought of a home remedy you can try out.
First, get yourself one of those big jumbo treadmills, you know, the kind Arnold Schwarzenegger would use. Make sure it does crazy inclines and declines. Mess up the fabric that you’ll be walking on and set the program to be chaotic and trip-mind-full. Next, set the treadmill next to ten flights of stairs in a enclosed stairwell. Have a demolition crew tear up the stairs so that they are all Uneven. Add boulders, rocks, gravel, sticks, leaves and mud to the stairs. Take out the hand rails. Next add rain, flies, mosquitoes, ticks, millipedes, snakes and spiders – make the temperature around 85F. Let the environment stew for a couple of decades.
Now comes the fun part; lay down and give a good friend or a spouse who is in, you know, that kind of mood, a small hammer. Have them lovingly beat you all across your body with it, making sure they focus on your legs, knees, shoulders and feet. Throw on some socks with tiny glass shards (you know, for blisters) and some good shoes. Get a heavy backpack on; (for all my diving friends out there – get a BCD with tank and weights- make sure it weighs 40 – 50 lbs. ; Everyone starts out with too much crap). Now gently walk two parts treadmill to one part flight of stairs for the next 8 to 12 hours. Doesn’t this all sound like a ball of fun!!
But the views are fantastic!! The luxurious foliage of these forests have changed my definitions of green. It is spectacular and worth every ache in my bones. To get fresh mountain stream water through my filter every day and know that I can live here in the wild is sensational. To sleep well in my hammock at night listening to the insects and creatures out here is a privilege. Our bodies are getting stronger day by day and our minds are adapting quite well I would say.
We are looking forward to the next 2000 miles. I am happy. We are happy. It is a privilege to be out here.