One of the biggest things that new hikers on the Appalachian Trail are worried about is their trail names. A trail name is how you identify yourself to other hikers – it’s a pseudonym that will follow you around forever and have stories attached to it. So naturally, everyone wants a cool name and some are tempted to give themselves one.
I say this out of love – don’t give yourself a trail name. It’s not who YOU are on the trail, it’s who you THINK you’re going to be on the trail. Those are two very different people. In fact, they are such wildly different people that you’ll sometimes wonder who that other person is.
I can think of a handful of people who have given themselves trail names before they got on the trail who actually embodied their trail names, and that had more to do with who they were as a person than anything.
Plus, you want a great story to go along with your trail name right? You don’t want to have to give the answer “oh, well it sounded cool so I picked it.” No! You want an awesome story, like Talker has!
Talker’s name relates back to his hike, and the person who he is. Imagine if he’d chosen a name before hand, like “Strider”. It wouldn’t have reflected the man who he was – a sleep talking, hilarious young man.
My name relates back to my first hike and the spices I was carrying in a novel way. Little Spoon’s relates back to his off-hand comment about how he “sometimes like to be the little spoon in bed”. Chuckles got hers because you could hear her laugh for miles, and she was always laughing. Snakebite got bit by that snake and Fire Eater went after the bacon in the fire. It’s who they were, are.
I know you’re anxious about trail names. I know you want something cool. Don’t take the easy way out – wait for it. It’ll be awesome. If you do get one you’re not comfortable with, you don’t have to take it. You can say “no, I’m not okay with that name” if it’s something that disturbs you or puts you off – that’s fine.
But artifically creating a name for yourself, when you don’t know who you’re going to be? I would advise against it. Especially not Strider. Because every time I meet a “Strider” I make it my goal in life to rename them.
Strider became Slider this year. Strider became Hatchet. Strider became Slowpoke. Strider became Nap Time.
So wait for your name. Have adventures. Do silly things. Carry silly things. You’ll get an awesome name. Promise.
When it comes to gear, long distance backpackers will talk for hours upon hours. We love all aspects of gear, and love seeing what others are carrying and why. It’s important for us, because we use it everyday.
So now that everyone has taken all the extra stuff out of their pack, lets put some things in that they’ll want for various reasons.
- Extra zip-lock bags. You can never have enough of these (especially the larger ones) and they weigh nothing. Use them for food storage, waterproofing electronics and maps, putting books or clothes into – even a pillow or waterproof booties over your socks when you’ve got wet shoes. There are few things zip-lock doesn’t solve.
- Make sure your headlamp has a red or green light on it. You don’t want to be “that guy/girl” in the shelter at night waking everyone up to go pee. Plus, red lights are a much lower power and draw less battery, making your headlamp last longer. It’s much easier to read with that red light at night without disturbing EVERYONE ELSE. If you don’t have a red light on your already purchased headlamp, some colored cellophane and a pair of binder clips can work. There are also very low cost red light only lights that are sold as clip ons, or aftermarket cheap lenses that snap one. But seriously – don’t be “that person” in the shelter.
- Watches are a controversial thing out on the trail, but I find they come in handy. There will be a few times when you’ll want to get up early to see a sunrise, or you have to leave in order to get to a post office before closing. Sure you could turn your phone on to check – but why waste that batter power? Snag yourself a cheap waterproof watch. Get a kids one if you can – they are always more colorful and fun.
- Pen or pencil. In fact bring two. There are some shelter logs where the pens are dead or have wandered off, and you’ll want to leave an entry. Shelter logs are one of the best things about the AT – you get to hear from people you’ve never met and you’ll learn to love them from their entries. The pen is also helpful if you want to leave a note along the trail for someone behind you – you’re going into town and are staying at XYZ hotel. So use an old guidebook page that you’ve already walked over, write a note on that, put it in a zip-lock (you ARE carrying extras right?) if it’s raining and head to town.
- Needle and thread. Or needle and dental floss. I prefer the later, but it’s up to you. You’ll need to sew something back together guaranteed, whether it’s your pants that blew out in the knee, the shirt that got ripped from a low hanging branch, or an attempt to make your shoes go just a few more miles to town before they die a terrible terrible death. Needle and thread will help.
- A good eating utensil. This is one of these things that for some reason people decide that they have to have “ultralight” which baffles me. This is a piece of equipment that you’ll use everyday, takes a lot of abuse and is pretty important. Get a metal one and don’t look back. The number of plastic/lexan ones I saw broken out on the trail was staggering. I think the $15 I spent in Delaware Water Gap getting a titanium spoon/fork was the best purchase ever.
- Multiple USB outlet plug. There is nothing worse than jockeying for outlets because everyone has their stuff plugged in. If you’re part of the growing number of hikers with more than one thing to charge, get yourself a plug that has more than one socket to it. If you have two things to charge in town (phone and say, steripen) then get a dual plug wall charger. Get a small square one if possible, so you’ll be able to fit it in anywhere. Long cords also help – the weight is negligible.
- Sunscreen for the first two weeks. You never would think you’d burn in early April, but you will. The leaves aren’t out on the trees yet, but you’re hiking enough that you’ll be in short sleeves. and you’re exposed. You. Will. Burn. So bring along a small sunscreen and use it. If you ignore this warning, be prepared to buy the smallest thing of aloe that have (usually 8-12 ozs). Which sounds like a better use of weight?
- You don’t need a big knife or a multitool. Seriously, when are you going to use that screwdriver? All you need is one blade. I got by with a 2 inch blade that cost me $3. Plastic handle. Simple.
- Bring an extra lighter or a small book of matches and keep them dry. When it rains and you spring a leak and your lighter gets wet, there is nothing worse than trying to dry that flint out. Or sometimes your lighter will walk away. It happens. Bring a backup.
- I like athletic tape over duct tape when it comes to wounds/first aid. Peeling duct tape off your body is pretty terrible – athletic tape flexes better and I find it doesn’t rub badly when wet. A little athletic tape (the cloth kind) is cheap and light. Consider it for blisters.
- Bug headnet. Mail it ahead to yourself for PA. You’ll want it there, and by the time you get to a place that sells them in PA, they’ll be sold out
- Bring the camp shoes. You’re probably on the fence about them because you’ve heard so many different things… But the truth is you’ll want them the first day it rains. Why? Because your shoes/boot will be soaked and you want to put dry socks on. But then.. you’ve got to go to the bathroom at 3am. Shove your clean fresh dry socks into wet shoes? NO. Camp shoes! Worth the weight!
- Extra candy. Seriously. You’ll want it. Chocolate. Hard candy. Bring the sugar! Put it in your morning coffee if you drink that, your complete breakfast powder or your protein shake. It’ll help with the flavor.
Fun things. I can’t stress this one enough. You’re going out on an adventure and you should enjoy yourself. By that I mean you want to have good memories, and you want to be a good memory to others.
What do I mean by that exactly?
The people you’ll remember far longer than others are the ones that stand out. Carry interesting and fun things – things that aren’t necessarily useful. I can still remember each and every person who carried silly things.
Things I’ve seen on the trail include: Kites. Pinatas. Wiffle ball bats (with returning wiffle ball). Foam swords. Real swords. Crazy hats. Water guns. Flasks of alcohol. Whole bottles of alcohol. Musical instruments. Plastic figures and toys (dinosaurs, alligators, birds, bears). A platoon of Green Army Men. Bricks. 2 pound mushroom paper-weights. Etch-a-sketches. Crayons. Paints. Chalk.
I could go on and on with this list. But bring fun things. Bring something that makes you stand out in the crowd. Don’t afraid to be a little crazy. You’re out in the woods already!
And don’t forget your sense of adventure!
I think I’ve done a fairly good job this hiking off season of NOT getting embroiled in guerrilla internet warfare. I haven’t been getting into peoples faces about things like choosing trail names before they start, obsession over pack-weight when they shouldn’t be, upset with people over constant advertising. I’ve certainly discussed these things with a few close friends – but I’ve been…. restrained.
This is not one of those restrained posts. If you have delicate sensibilities… perhaps you should move on.
This all starts with the blog.appalachiantrials.com blog that Badger runs and his 3 lists.
- “I am thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail because…”
- “When I successfully thru-hike the Appalachian Trail I will…”
- “If I give up on the Appalachian Trail I will…”
A useful way to diagram out your reasoning, especially because expressing why you’re going out to do a long distance hike can be problematic for many. I know that 2 years after starting my first thruhike I STILL have problems with the “why I started doing this” bit when talking to people.
I have no problem with the first list, “I’m doing this because”. The second… I take a slight issue with. Why you ask? Because let’s face it – like all other plans you have on the trail, this one might not bear any resemblance to the reality you’ll find out there. Plans change – sometimes immensely.
When people go out on a long hike like this, they discover things about themselves, sometimes things they never knew or only suspected. Sometimes they validate what they already knew and reinforce it. As Rob Bird once told me “People are out here every year, looking for themselves or someone else – some people find it in 20 miles, others don’t ever find it on this path but have to go to another one. But they always discover the important things they never knew existed.” So what does that mean about your list of things you’ll discover about yourself when you finish?
Maybe it’s time to toss that list and instead of planning on finding or achieving the growth you “Think” you need – open yourself to actual growth that is spontaneous instead of planned. That’s just a thought and suggestion from someone who HAD a list like that and then lost it along the way – and was much happier and experienced FAR more growth when it was natural.
Again – just my opinion.
But here comes the nity-gritty – the part I worry about and almost take offense to when I read the final list: “If I give up on the AT without finishing”
All of the lists I’ve read have pretty much the same gist. Major topics in those lists include
- Being disapointed in themselves
- Thinking of themselves as a failure for not finishing
- Regret not finishing
- Not be someone worth respect from others
- Never follow through on things
- Become unattractive to others
- Not be someone my friends/family/significant other can be proud of
If most of these were on your list (or are in your head) please I’d ask you to do the following.
Remove your head from your ass and wake up and smell the coffee.Seriously.
There are a few things on this list that are real, and worth noting as being things that can or will happen. When you get off the trail, you will be depressed about it. Not “if” but when. For those who have read my previous posts, they know that I came back from this years hike and was in a spiraling depression – and I FINISHED this year. in 2012 when I made it 1600+ miles and got off I was also depressed. Common link between? Getting off the trail – not whether or not I finished!
What else is true on this list? Regret – you’re going to regret things no matter if you finish or not. You’ll regret skipping 5 miles that one day (I still do) or you’ll regret not finishing. You’ll regret not hiking with certain people more, and hiking with certain people less. REGRET IS CONSTANT – but is NOT a defining characteristic of the trail.
I could regret being with the girl I was for 3 months and giving her EVERYTHING about my trail experience, including changing my hike for her – but I DON’T because it was still Awesome to be with her – despite everything that happened later.
So for the rest – we have to talk.
All this talk of letting other people down, not being worthy of respect or love from others is baloney. You set out to do something that most of them don’t understand at all. They love you for you – not for something you’re doing. If they didn’t love you for you, they wouldn’t be interested in what you’re doing in the first place. So stop that. Stop that right now. If you have to get off the trail for whatever reason, they aren’t going to love you any less – in fact most of them still get to brag about you “my sister/brother/son/wife hiked over 300 miles on the AT! Isn’t that awesome!”. They are NOT going to go out and say “Oh well he/she/it tried but couldn’t do it because they were terrible at it.” So stop it. Now.
Never following through on things is another bit I hate to hear – sometimes there are circumstances FAR beyond your control that come into play on your hike. I told the story about Damselfly recently, and how she stubbornly decided to finish despite seriously injuring herself. That injury is a hike ender for 99% of people. Things like money get in the way – family issues or even just simple time. Things beyond your control happen – and for all you control freaks out there, you’re going to have a hard time dealing with this. Learning to let things go might be your biggest lesson on this hike. So stop worrying about how not finishing a hike like this means that you are never going to follow through on things. That’s crap.
I’ve read two different ones now that say “I’ll become unattractive to others.” This is a female thing it seems (sampling size = 2, so don’t kill me feminists) and it’s positively untrue. Ladies out there – you’re going to get on trail and be the hottest commodity besides Snickers bars. Hiker women are the sexiest things on the planet in my mind. Single Girl Hiker agrees with me I think. She tells me Hiker Men are the sexiest things out there too. Why are you attractive though? Not because there are so few of you – it’s because you’re willing to take chances, be yourself and commit to things. I’m talking about not waffling – knowing what you want and taking it. To me at least, there is nothing more unattractive then the inevitable dance of “where do you want to go for dinner.” You know what you want! Go take it! It happens all the time on the trail. Plus you know, you’re hot! So stop thinking you’re unattractive. Patently untrue.
The biggest thing is that people are disappointed in themselves. I can understand that, and it is something that will happen. But it’s also something that I’ve come to see as not being “real”. What do I mean by that? I mean that you went out and tried – you can be disappointed that you didn’t finish, but it’s not the defining characteristic of your hike.
Your defining characteristic is that you went out there in the first place.
You can run around and around on not finishing, not having gotten what you wanted out of it but that’s all a load of malarkey when you come back to the simple fact: you went out there and did SOMETHING.
And that fact is greater than 99% of people you will ever meet.
You went and followed a dream you had – it may not have succeeded, but you DID do it, even if it was just for a little while.
That is something majority of people will never do – can never do. It sets you apart.
The statistics show that only about 20% will finish a thru-hike. I think that number is lower myself. But of the 3000 or so that will start, they are all following a dream of some kind. That dream is what is important. Not finishing, not doing X or Y or Z on your list. The dream you have to go out and hike a long distance trail is what is important. So stop making lists. Instead be open to your hike and what it can bring to you. Not what you bring to it.
I love you all.