Departing March 10, 2011

  • Length: 2,179 miles
  • Duration: 5-6 months
  • South Terminus: Springer Mountain, GA
  • North Terminus: Mount Katahdin, MN
  • Elevation Change: 475,200 ft.
  • Trail Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
  • Hazards: Severe Weather, American Black Bear, Tick-borne diseases, Mosquitoes, Chiggers, Steep Grades, Limited Water, Poison Ivy, Venomous Snakes

T-minus one month till I embark on the journey of a lifetime. This forthcoming adventure is currently in its experimental phase.  Between figuring out food and gear, I have been quite occupied trying to pack just the essentials in my pack. My trail mate and I hope to complete the journey in 5 months, but we plan to stop and guide whitewater trips in NC and TN. Frankly, we’ll need a little “civilization” after being in the wilderness for so many months.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this adventure, I will have to carry all of my possessions on my back. For a female of my height it is essential to keep my load under 35 pounds and this is no easy task. For instance, you may find yourself making difficult decisions over what dress to pack or what pair of dress shoes to take on your vacation. I am forced to make critical decisions too, like how many day’s worth of food to pack or how many liters of water to carry. I once spoke with a hiker that battled between his light weight Bible and his flask of whiskey- each one near and dear to him. I’ll let you guess which one he chose : )

Meanwhile, I am at home spending my last days in civilization with the people that matter most to me. My father insists on “making suggestions” about which gear to take. I tell him, “dad you hiked part of the trail back on 2003” to which he looks at me in confusion, “nobody in their right mind hikes with the kind of gear you used back then!” Little disagreements have ensued between us. He is so certain that hikers still use heavy external-framed packs. That would be equivalent to wearing last season’s fashion to this season’s social events. The evolution of outdoor gear is amazing and in seven years, my hiking gear looks drastically different from his.

Nonetheless, I am mentally, physically, and spiritually preparing myself to face the solitude of the wilderness. Of course, I am hiking with my best friend. However, one cannot truly understand the solitude and silence of the forest until they go a good distance on the AT. The silence of the wilderness is almost deafening and it forces you to confront the things that you avoid on a day-to-day basis. Many thru-hikers cannot handle this and depart from the trail gladly in search of the relief of a noisy town.

Stay tuned for more posts throughout my epic journey!

2/14/11

So it’s almost two-and-a-half weeks till I jump off at Springer Mountain, GA. Things are starting to come together and seem to make sense. It’s like a painting; once a bare sketch of the main objects blocked in with little detail and soon developed into a masterpiece of brush strokes, vivid colors, and detailed images. My most triumphant moment has come in the planning for my trail food. I am setup to be the next Martha Stewart or Paula Dean of AT hiking food…

Traditionally, thru-hiker food was pretty bare-boned and awful. Hikers have been limited to boring, mundane, and tasteless foods. For example, there is the old college-kid favorite, Ramen, trail mix, dried fruits, and boxed macaroni. There are no refrigerators out there on the trail so everything we carry has to be non-perishable. One can only live off dried noodles and peanuts for so long. Even when my dad attempted to hike in 2003, hiker food was still in its infancy. Well, I am most pleased that I will not be limited to stale peanuts or Ramen noodles. Thanks to my trusty dehydrator and a vacuum sealer, I’ll be chowing down on lasagna, pot roast, fettuccine alfredo, and a wealth of other delectable treats. I’ve also managed to outsmart the outdoor companies that make “special” trail food. They charge ridiculous prices on pre-made meals, but they are exactly what I am making and sealing at home for cheap. It’s like stickin’ it to the man!

For the wilderness novices out there, here are some interesting facts about thru-hiker food. It’s near impossible to consume as many calories as one burns while hiking (anywhere from 12-24 miles a day). Most thru-hikers, if they make it all-the-way to Maine, leave the trail looking gaunt, emaciated, perhaps deathly. It is actually quite common for many hikers to experience dangerous weight-loss while on the trail, leading to hypothermia. Because of the inclement weather, extreme cold, and limited food choices hikers often do not eat enough food to take care of their body. Think about it this way: on your car you change the oil, rotate the tires, and perform tune-ups on the engine to maintain it. On the AT, your body is your vehicle and your hiking boots are your tires. If you do not care for these things, you’ll find yourself in serious danger.

The other interesting factor is theft… yes, food theft, but it’s not quite what you’d think. I don’t mean that other hikers steal your food. I mean creatures! haha. Every night I will have to hang my food sack from a tree. The smell of that delicious dehydrated pot roast in my food bag will attract every black bear around for miles. So it is imperative that I have anything with a smell or fragrance hanging from a tree. This means toothpaste and deodorant too. A hiker would never want to keep their food in their tent, or else they might wake-up to find an uninvited, 250lb. guest foraging around their camp.

Now that food is underway, I just have to pick out a tent and sleeping pad. Keep checking back for more updates!

2/21/11

It always amazes me how quickly the weather can shift. Today Lilly and I decided to run a practice hike up Blood Mountain in GA. When we left in the morning it was warm and sunny, but by the time we arrived at Neil’s Gap it was quite windy and brisk. Nonetheless, we came armed and ready for all weather situations. Neil’s Gap was a pretty cool site. There is an old inn, turned outfitter store sitting alone at the top of the gap. Everyone from serious hikers to curious Floridians were present. Every time I try to go to a remote place in the mountains, I always manage to run in to Floridians–and Gators for that matter. Is this a sign or just a joke?

The hike was a brief one, just 2.1 one miles to the summit of Blood Mountain. Don’t let the short distance fool you. The trail was pretty rugged and an easy site for hikers to tear a ligament or break a bone or two. The trail starts out below the tree line, slowly meandering above it. It was actually quite beautiful. Large, house-sized boulders frequent the trail and long veins of granite makeup the majority of the trail. It was like walking on a sidewalk paved by mother nature herself. By the time we reached the summit I realized how much it sounded like I was at the beach. The rhythmic flow of wind through the trees is reminiscent to the sounds of the ocean crashing onto the shore. It definitely added to the epic scenery at the top of the mountain.

We encountered many hikers today. We passed some outdoor enthusiasts, grandmas and grandpas, and some really unprepared folks. Although I was only hiking with a small backpack, I was glad to have some rain gear and first aid supplies. I saw a guy hiking in flip-flops–that seemed a bit foolish.  At the summit, we ducked into the stone shelter and chatted with some day-hikers. They wanted to know if we would carry firearms on the trail to stave-off the bears. That seems to be a popular question lately. It is awful tempting to consider packing a firearm, but it would weigh far too much and serve little purpose for the ultimate journey.

Nevertheless, we will do a series of practice hikes before we finally leave. We have set our tentative departure to the first week of March. I feel as if I am running out of time, but I am confident that the Lord will prepare me for the journey. As I was hiking today, I realized that there are a million things that could go wrong. I then realized that every hiker has a million things that they could worry about. However, I have elected to take-on these risks and travel the journey of a lifetime. There is no sense worrying about it. I am reminded of a scripture in Psalms, one that I often claim when taking-on challenging tasks.

“For You will light my lamp; the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness. For by You I can run against a troop. By my God I can leap over a wall. As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him…It is God who arms me with strength, and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of deer, and sets me on high places.” -Psalm 18:28-30,32,34

2/28/11

I’d like to start this post with a few nuggets of truth:

Blisters are like flat tires; they can completely ruin a good hike and they hurt like hell!

Deodorant apparently attracts bears. In a desperate attempt to find unscented deodorant, I have been sadly disappointed. Don’t they sell unscented, non-bear attracting deodorant? Lilly swears that they don’t! I wouldn’t consider myself a girly-girl, but I really don’t want to smell myself whilst hiking and baking in the hot sun.

For all you Floridians, apparently February, a winter month, isn’t really winter in North Carolina. It’s been as hot as Florida up here. Major downer.

Lilly and I have created the NEW Appalachian Trail diet and workout plan. Here it is:

  • Eat whatever you want, I mean whatever you want: Butter, Potato Chips, Fried Chicken, Sweets
  • Sleep in late in the mornings
  • Lounge around in the evenings for as long as you’d like
  • Eat whole cheese cakes and Taco Bell- very important in this diet
  • This may sound too good to be true, but it’s not! All this can be yours! All you have to do is hike approximately 20 miles a day on the AT.
  • Side Effects include: ravenous hunger, potential broken bones, torn tendons, extreme hypothermia, extreme dehydration, bear attacks, bee stings, various other environmental emergencies.

Stay tuned for the up-and-coming workout video! haha.

AT preparations are coming along swimmingly, just a week or two more and we will be on our way to Maine!

5 Responses to “Departing March 10, 2011”

  1. First time reading. I’m enraptured

  2. Hey Sam,

    I’m really looking forward to the progression of your adventure. Your posts are beginning to inspire me to consider hiking. haha. Take it easy.

    Dan Zumi

  3. the statement “take it easy” fits well with 2000+ mile hike.🙂

  4. Melissa Matthews Says:

    Good luck, Sam!! I look forward to future posts! ….and I like how you’re planning on packing deodorant😉

  5. Allison Hazelbaker Says:

    Hey Cuz! I hope you found the deodorant! I know Bass Pro sells some! Dad and Cory have it for hunting! I always laughed about it, cause i thought those boys go through the extreme to hunt a deer! lol but in your case, not wanting to attrack bears! Yikes! Have a great hike! Be SAFE!

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