Monday, May 31, 2010

Backpacking the AT

What do you get when two moms take their adult children backpacking?


After exactly 48 hours on the Appalachian Trail, I can now say that I have gone backpacking and lived to tell a tale about it.

The trip was great for numerous reasons, but most importantly, we learned a lot.

First of all, we took waaaaay toooo muuuuuch food. We started hiking around 11 am on Friday and returned 11 am Sunday. That equals six meals on the trail, but I believe we took enough food for about a week... I had six cliff bars and ate two. I had a piece of fruit for each day and ate one. If you are planning on going back packing, here are my food suggestions:

Bring 1 cliff bar (or any energy/protein bar) a day.

Use Tupperware containers as your dishes. Pack a salad loaded with fresh veggies and a lean protein (like chicken) in your Tupperware container for the first day/night.

Also consider packing carrots and celery as they can last longer than most fresh vegetables.

Premix everything. Mrs. Carol brought premixed oatmeal in zip lock bags for her and Ben and it looked delicious. She put the 3/4 cup of instant oatmeal and added powdered milk/creamer, brown sugar, flax seed, chopped nuts and craisins (aka cranberry raisins).

Bring one bag of gorp (aka trail mix). I would suggest using a freezer bag for this as it is a little more substantial than your average sandwich bag. Obviously, your gorp should include lots and lots of nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios), raisins and things (craisins or blueberry raisins) and a treat (which for me, is always chocolate). I am personally partial to craisins and dark chocolate in my gorp, but blueberry raisins and white chocolate is another common favorite. Plan to have about 3/4 to a cup of gorp per full day on the trail. So, for our 48 hour/6 meal trip I should have only had about 2 cups of gorp rather than the 4 cups I had with me.

Another marvelous thing are camping/climbing/packing squeeze tubes. My mom put chunky Jiff in our tube. BAD IDEA. Let's just say the tube did not live up the its squeeze-feasibility with chunky Jiff. Mrs. Carol put natural peanut butter in her tube, which is a better idea because it tends to have more ooze to it than processed peanut butter (as well as fewer chunks). Lesson learned: choosy moms should not always choose Jiff. Another great squeeze tube filler is Nutella. Chocolate and peanut butter, need I say more.

While I do love the Nuttella idea, my mom also had a great lunch. She had her peanut butter on a whole wheat pita with craisins and apple slices. First of all, bring whole wheat wraps and not bread. Believe me, there is no way not to squish your bread pack packing and wraps can't get squished. Second, pre-slice your apples and squeeze a little lemon or lime juice on them. They weigh less than a whole apple, you don't have to carry the core, and they can be used in more things. Our apples lasted without refrigeration the entire time on the trail and I would bet they could have made it another day or two.

But enough about the food. To the right is a picture of my packed pack. Overall, the clothing I packed was appropriately. The only thing I could have left home were a new pair of hiking shorts (instead I wore my hiking pants that turn into shorts the entire time) and some underwear (believe it or not the cleanliness of your underwear is not important past day 1). Another interesting tidbit, wool does not absorb smell as much as synthetic fabrics. I packed/wore:
  • hiking pants with zip off legs
  • quick dry polo
  • sports bra
  • 3 pairs of underwear
  • cotton shirt and boxers for sleeping
  • one pair of wool socks and liners
  • hiking boots
  • fleece (doubled as a pillow)
  • running tights (spandex) for cold weather
  • underarmer long sleeve shirt (for cold)
  • fleece headband and gloves
Besides clothing, the only other extra equipment we had was a stove and cookware. We brought two stoves for convenience, but believe it or not, back packing is not about convenience. We could have left one at home and its fuel. We also took two cookware sets, which again was nice to have, but that is not what backpacking is about. If each person brings a Tupperware container as their dishes than all you need is a pot to boil water. Though, the Tupperware was used for storage at one point because we cooked waaaaay too much cous-cous the first night on the trail. Oooops!

Now on to the actual hike! I am sorry to say my camera died the first hour on the trail. Figures right? Especially since I did not bring any extra batteries... But anyway, we did the section near Swatara State Park. The first day we covered seven miles that included a steep incline. Thankfully, the trail included numerous switch backs, making the upward trek slightly less painful. I borrowed my pack from a coworker (and am very thankful), but I should have made sure it fit me correctly before tackling the mountain. Unisex packs can be great because they are versatile, but you need to make sure you fit the pack to your body before you start your hike.

It took us five hours to hike 7 miles to the shelter (pictured below). The shelter was an interesting experience. It is a house without one side, a picnic bench outside and a latrine. We met three section hikers. Two of which were finishing up the trail (Steamer and Etcha-sketch). Now, don't worry those are their trail names. Trail names are common for those attempting to hike the entire AT. This include through hikers, section hikers and day hikers. From what my group could gather, your trail name has to be given to you. My mom's trail name is Dr. J. My little brother's friends gave it to her because she has a Jurist Doctorate. Mrs. Carol's trail name is in formation, but will probably involve the word turnip (what her maiden name means).

Etcha-sketch is a 20 something male who tried to hike the trail last summer with his girl friend (who apparently "slowed him down") and is trying to finish his last bit. And, Steamer is a 60 something male who talked nonstop the moment we approached the shelter until dark and then again starting at about 6 am. He did have his hiking act together. He is retired, married and likes to section hike the trail here and there.

The third hiker was out for the first time to see if he liked it (Jamison). Jamison is a dancer and former Whole Foods employee from Philly who was hiking from Harrisburg to Allentown. He was very nice and had some great ideas like storing your food in Peanut butter containers, but was obviously new to the whole hiking game. He wore a cotton t-shirt and these obnoxious plaid pants. He also carried an exterior frame pack as he collected his equipment from friends. He did have snazzy cookware.

The next day we hiked 1o miles to a gap with a spring. This hike was much better than the first because we had become one with our packs (sort of), but was full of rocky terrain. The rumor is true, Pennsylvania is the rockiest section of the AT.

When we arrived at the gap we realized quickly that we would not have as much privacy as we originally imagined. The camping area was packed with locals! My favorite was the 20 something group of guys who threw their pot into the fire as we walked by the first time. Apparently they did not realize that both my mom and Mrs. Carol did live through both the 60's and 70's. Surprisingly, they were not as loud as I thought they would be.

That night we did sleep in our tent, which was much more comfortable than the wood floor of the shelter. It did rain on us, which resulted in our usual "Oh shit shuffle" as we threw on the tent fly and Ben jumped in our three now four man tent.

The next morning we were up and out by 9 am, off to the car and then to a dinner for pancakes.

Overall it was a great trip! I can't wait to go again!