Letter from Skid

Here’s a couple of observations. Pretrail training will pay off regardless of hiking style. Keep at it. However, the AT has a long hiking window and this is not as important as it is on the other trails.

A word to the wise. It is very tempting when hiking lightweight to max out your daily averages. This can hurt your body, much like carrying too heavy a load. I suggest spending more time on mountain tops, swimming in more creeks, watching more butterflies and reading more good books than hiking from dawn to dusk. If you are in shape, properly outfitted, you can easily hike twenty miles in seven or eight hours on the AT. This leaves a lot of daylight hours in which to play!

I’m impressed with you taking the initiative to make your own gear. Gives you a sense of satisfaction, doesn’t it?

Have you adopted this lightweight philosophy to other areas in your life? Living simply — for example — only consuming what you need for existence?

I probably have more questions for you than answers, because I too am a seeker of knowledge... Always remember, there is no right way or wrong way to hike the trail, some styles are just easier on your body.


Appalachian Trail preparation

I walked about 900 miles during the winter and spring, going out for 3 miles, twice per day on the flat landscape near home. I gradually increased my pack weight to 31 pounds, trying to gently build muscle and cartilage strength. I played tennis, hoping to condition knees and cardio, and to gain flexibility.

Even so, my weight inflated to 168 pounds. I could not understand the weight gain at the time, but the answer probably lay in my heavy granola breakfast and the advice to eat one piece of junk food daily (such as snacks at convenience stores).

I prepared or bought 200-300 pounds of bulk food, mostly organic and natural. Breakfast: homemade granola, including nuts and seeds. Snacks: homemade trail mix, dried fruits, fruit leathers, Snickers and Little Debbie's Brownies. Cooked meals: organic whole-wheat pasta with various seasonings, and rice with bean combinations.

Drying food and filling 700-800 baggies took weeks. The packing operation moved into a bathroom, with both air conditioner and dehumidifier running.

My base packweight was 8 or 9 pounds, 15-17 pounds provisioned. During the winter I bought a dozen pairs of running shoes on sale and broke them in. Most of them worked badly for heavy-duty use.

Outdoor skills seemed vital to preserving physical well-being and safety. From online journals it seemed most hikers experience mid-hike breakdowns involving foot and leg injury. Considering the inevitability of “hitting the wall," I wanted to recover and continue intact. Praying for help in adapting to adversity on the trail, I recited the 23rd Psalm.



3a. House of the Lord

The distance hike of the Long Trail had taken 17 days instead of the normal 25-28 days. It satisfied the requirement of being out on the trail for longer than two weeks, and confirmed that I could indeed hike 10 or 12 hours daily on a regular basis.

Apparently, daily walks with Stella were talking me into a more ambitious plan without my knowing it. On the trail, a 10-mile day became just a “walk in the park” because we had already done exactly that on many mornings. At home, walking provided a time for composing my thoughts and being receptive to the inspirations of nature.

The first month of hiking on the Appalachian Trail felt like a true adventure in an outdoor cathedral. As my body weight came off, I would sometimes put my pack on the ground to run uphill in search of a trail juncture.

Yet I often pushed too much, bringing undue hardship upon myself. The ultralight idea could lead to excess, as any hiking style could. Flying solo, I was just another novice thru-hiker adapting on the way.