Friday, April 21, 2017

Town Etiquette for Hikers

It happens every year on the Appalachian Trail.

Yet another trail provider has discontinued its use to hikers because of bad behavior. Some businesses like motels no longer offering discounts to hikers due to ill practices. Or others have simply closed their doors to hiker traffic altogether. Just a few years ago the Appalachian Tail Conservancy implemented the trail community program to foster relationships between towns and hikers. As noted on their website:

“The Appalachian Trail Community™ program is designed to recognize communities that promote and protect the Appalachian Trail (A.T.).  Towns, counties, and communities along the A.T.’s corridor are considered assets by all that use the A.T. and many of these towns act as good friends and neighbors to the Trail. The program serves to assist communities with sustainable economic development through tourism and outdoor recreation, while preserving and protecting the A.T.
Designation as an Appalachian Trail Community™ and participation in the program is aimed to:
·         Engage community citizens, Trail visitors and stewards
·         Recognize and thank communities for their service to the Trail and hikers
·         Act as a catalyst for enhancing sustainable economic development
·         Aid local municipalities and regional areas with conservation planning
·         Help local community members see the Trail as a resource and asset”

This is a way to foster communication and relationship between towns, the trail, and hikers. Yet each year there are hikers that abuse the services towns provide. Because of the actions of a few, several of these communities have found their ties with the trail and hikers strained. We as hikers needed do our best to foster a good relationship with towns as well as educating them on hiking and trail life.

With this in mind, here are a few things to consider while in a town on a long distance hike:
Trail town of Hot Springs, NC

In towns -
Be sure to clean up as soon as you can when arriving in town (hiker funk to the public is not fun or funny). Saying please and thank you goes a long way. Don’t use foul language in public. This is a town with families. Greet townspeople with a smile. Say hello. If they ask questions, talk about your hike but also ask them questions, too. And be sure to thank them for what they do for hikers.

Practice Leave No Trace Principle, yes even in town. And that means, showing respect, courtesy to others and to businesses. Respect the town, the people, and law enforcement. No drunkenness or drug use (the main cause of trail providers closing their doors!). You’re hiking a trail, committing yourself to discipline each and every day. You can also be disciplined while in towns. If you can’t get off the mind-altering substances or limit drinking, then get off the trail. Trails and towns are not for partying, nor do folks want to be subjected to it. Towns are where people live and work. They want peace. 

In hostels and motels - don’t trash the rooms, leave copious amounts of trash everywhere, leave dirt, blood etc. in the sink, floor or tub. Don’t use the motel’s white washcloths to wash dirty stuff. Clean out the sinks and tub after use. Pick up the room before you leave. If there is a NO PET policy, abide by it (that includes NOT saying your dog is a service animal when he/she isn't!). If there is a hiker limit to the rooms, abide by it. And don’t take the extra toilet paper rolls. If you can’t afford to buy a roll, then you shouldn't be out hiking because you can't afford it. If you do need a roll, ask management if you can pay for one. Be sure to tip the housekeeping staff and leave more than enough money when staying at donation-basis hostels - least $20 for your stay plus $5 for laundry.  

In restaurants – abide by the policies of the restaurant by not hording food, coming into the restaurant unbathed, or wearing dirty footwear. Tip for your meals. Don’t assume you can walk in and charge electronics unless you are a paying customer.
Towns are great places to eat.  

In Laundromats – don’t leave trash, dirt or other debris in the place. This is a public facility where townsfolk also do their laundry. Please clean up before you come with your laundry. And wear clothes. If you need to, bring or mail or bounce a box with a pair of lightweight shorts and t shirt you can use while in town. Or use your rain gear like your jacket and pants (NOT a poncho with nothing underneath!). Also, don't do laundry with just a towel wrapped around or something else. Kids go into laundromats too, as does Grandma.

By being respectful, we hikers can go a long way in protecting a valuable asset to the trail experience – the trail towns. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Sickness on the Trail

It's that time of year once more - when hikers head for the trails and disease follows. The chief complaint on the trail like the Appalachian Trail is the Norovirus, which seems to strike every hiking season.

Noroviruses are found in the stool or vomit of infected people and on infected surfaces that have been touched by ill people. Outbreaks occur more often where there are more people in a small area like hostels, shelters and privies contaminated by sick hikers.

How noroviruses are spread
People can become infected with the virus by:

  • Eating food or drinking liquids infected with noroviruses
  • Touching surfaces or objects infected with noroviruses and then touching own mouth, nose, or eyes
  • Having person-to-person contact (with a norovirus-infected person) by
    • being present while someone is vomiting
    • sharing food or eating from the same utensils
    • caring for a sick person
    • shaking hands
    • (also) eating out of contaminated food bags or food contaminated by the virus
  • Not washing hands after using the bathroom and before eating or preparing food.

Norovirus infections are not usually serious
Noroviruses are highly contagious, but infections are not usually serious. People may feel very sick and vomit often or get diarrhea, becoming dehydrated if lost liquids are not replaced. Most people recover within 1 or 2 days and have no long-term adverse health effects.

What to do if you get norovirus (I am adding more to this)

  • Rest
  • Drink plenty of fluids as you tolerate it. Start with clear fluids first - like broth from Ramen, Gatorade, weak tea with a little sugar, just plain water, jello and popsicles (if you can get it). As your stomach allows, eat bland foods like crackers, white bread, Ramen noodle soup, jello if you can get it. Advance your diet very slowly. Avoid greasy and fried foods. When you can tolerate it, replace electrolytes and bacteria lost with bananas and yogurt.
  • Wash hands often.
  • Baby wipes can help clean irritation left from the "runs"

How to prevent getting and spreading noroviruses (and other illnesses)

  • Wash hands often. Wash hands after using the bathroom and before eating or preparing food. Wash hands more often when someone in your hostel/shelter is sick.
  • Avoid shaking hands during outbreaks
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer along with handwashing or if facilities for handwashing are unavailable. Make sure the sanitizer is at least 70% alcohol. I recommend Purell Advanced.
  • Do not eat out of another hiker's food bag (like passing the bag of GORP or bag of chips around the campsite or shelter) Be careful where you are accepting food at hiker feeds and by generous trail angels. Packaged food is best. use had sanitizer whenever possible.
  • Avoiding shelter areas and other communicable spots, esp during the disease season.
  • Carrying packets of Emergen C to add to water helps replace vitamins lost and can boost your immune system.
  • Boost your immune system by eating good healthy foods while hiking. A balance of proteins, fats, carbs, supplemented by dried veggies and fruits is best. Avoid empty carbs and sugars. Consider also taking a vitamin supplement.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Lessons Learned on What Works and Doesn’t Work on a Long Distance Trek

Things I have heard to take on a long distance trek that just don’t work for me. Sorry.

Case in point -

1. Duct Tape – this is the proverbial go-to for first aid on all types of blisters, holes and / or broken gear, 

I’ve used it for years with poor results. I’ve put it on only to have it fall off, rub my other toes or skin, bunch up, causing more issues. I’ve tried to repair gear with it to have it fall off or bunch up. 

The stuff stinks. Period. And can leave glue marks on gear, sometimes negating a warranty

Solution: For hot spots I have been using moleskin which does pretty good, doesn't irritate like duct tape, can though it can also come off if it gets wet.
For bombproof Rx of blisters, my treatment is the Band-Aid Advanced Healing Blister bandages.
There is nothing like it out there (including stuff I have seen sold in outfitters)! I used them in the swamps and sand of the Florida Trail. They are awesome. I tried other blister brands too. They fell off. Not these. Well worth the money and may save your hike. They are waterproof. When they begin to peel back after a few days, remove the bits slowly, a little at a time. When they fall off, the blister area is healed. Amazing.

As for gear? Tear-Aid Type B works for holes in tents. Carry some. Dental floss and a needle could repair tear in a pinch. Wait for an outfitter or call the manufacturer from the trail to have gear replaced up the trail (lots of manufacturers will work with you).

2. Trash bag liner to line your pack and protect gear from getting wet.

Forget it. Been there, done that. A cheapo version that protects in light rain, sure. But if you are a long distance backpacking, you’re gonna get soakers. As a ridgerunner I have seen hikers pull out their wet stuff from a trash bag liner in their backpack after enduring a heavy thunderstorm. I’ve had my stuff soaked on the Long Trail in a heavy, three inch all day rain. 

Solution: I went to the Z Packs cuben fiber liners and /or stuff sacks. They are awesome. I have had a puddle inside my pack and the stuff in these is dry. Worth the money.

3. Sawyer Mini to filter water.

TOO slow for me. The Sawyer squeeze filter is bigger and works faster – letting you quench that thirst for an ounce more. And I also used the Evernew water bags. They work awesome with the Squeeze filter. No more blowing out Sawyer bags!

Conversely, things I said – “Nah” only to find DO work -

4. A map app on a cell phone. 
I’ve argued – Inaccurate. Wastes your phone charge. Hard to read. May fail.
I used it exclusively for the Florida Trail. Worked great. You do need to know how to work it and read a map, though. On recommendation from hikers, I got a good Anker charger for my phone so I can now keep it charged (the cords are light too for recharging everything when in town). I love phone map apps. They are awesome.

5. Darn Tough socks. Everyone raves about them. I’ve used all kinds of other socks. Are they really that great?
YES they are.
These socks are Bombproof. And they have an unlimited guarantee. They dare you to wear them out. No joke. Amazing.

Anything you care to share about gear you now like or don’t like? 

Sunday, March 05, 2017

10th Anniversary of a Thru Hike - Anniversary of our Start!

The day has arrived!

Our first day on the trail - March 5, 2007. Ten years have passed since our trek up the Approach Trail to the southern terminus at Springer Mountain. For me it was seeing thirty years of dreaming coming to pass. We had a long way to go on our journey - but it was the day of days, and one I will never forget.

To read more about the amazing journey I took with my 16 yr old son, check out our book Mountains, Madness, and Miracles - 4000 Miles Along the Appalachian Trail

March 5, 2007 in pictures -

At Amicalola Falls State Park where we registered
Some pre duct taping before hitting the trail
At the arch, ready to roll
Happy thru hikers we met along the way
Approach Trail
The first white blaze - of many to come
On Springer Mtn at the northern terminus - Blissful, Paul Bunyan, and Papa Bliss

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

10th Anniversary of a Thru Hike - Part 4 - Unexpected Delays

Who has not had plans go awry when you least expect it. So it was for our hike in 2007. We had intended to leave the night before on Feb 28th to begin our hike March 1st and the start of a new
month. But it was not to be. Like even the hike itself, one must expect the unexpected and go with the flow. And alter plans even before you hit the trailhead!

From our Journal - 

Feb 28, 2007

Tonight we are supposed to be at the Hike Inn in GA, ready to embark on this nearly six month long hike.
Maildrops had to be changed
Instead we are at home tonight - I with a cold, Paul Bunyan still has a fever, and Skipper is trying to keep everything together. Still not sure yet when we will be leaving. We got our dog back from the farm where she stayed last night in prep for us leaving today (which we didn't). So we will keep her until we are ready to depart. I went through my Smokies mail drop to check on the weight as it seemed very heavy. Answered a few e-mails. But not doing too much. Basically in a holding pattern until the illness passes. But better here at home than hold up for days at some motel spending money and wondering what will happen. As it is, Skipper won't be able to hike as far as he planned. The maildrops have all changed. But blessed are the flexible. Still, I can't be sad about the setback. Esp when I just heard yesterday of a great Christian author and speaker, whom I've had the privilege of learning from at writers' conferences - who lost his home and a family member in a terrible fire yesterday. I prayed for him last night and thought about my own circumstances that seemed to pale by comparison. But God is good and yet received encouragement today from others. Of course one can't and shouldn't be comparing what we each go through in life. But it did get my eyes off of me for a time, which is always a good thing to do.

March 1

March 1st and the day I was to begin my hike. But seeing the atrocious weather in Georgia this day and the many comments I have received that all things work together for good - I must say that has
come into play here with our continuing illness. I believe we are starting to mend, but it's hard to know when to go. When will we be fit enough to hike without suffering relapse or something else? In my heart I would like to go for a March 5th start. But I don't know. So we will see how tomorrow goes and then make a decision from there. All you can do is take it day by day.

March 2

Waiting to see this place, sigh...
Here we are, T plus two days. When I told Paul Bunyan that we will have to delay longer if he doesn't start eating (cause we won't go if he is that sick), he suddenly became hungry and began to eat. In the back of my mind I am hoping we might leave Sunday for a March 5th start, but we are still in a wait and see. Thankfully our neighbor agreed to watch our dog, so we are not bound to the schedule for the kennel where we were planning to take her. So this gives us a bit of leeway. Still, Skipper is getting edgy to leave since he only had ten days to hike with us, which has now been lessened to a week. Every day lost means less time he has to spend with us on the trail as he must be back by March 11 for work. So it's really a tough decision to make when to go. Right now I am holding to leaving Sunday, March 4th for GA. All we can do is continue to wait and see.

March 3

We're going to go for it - leave for GA tomorrow, that is, and begin the hike on March 5th. I'm not 100% and neither is Paul Bunyan, but we decided to go slower than we were planning, plus we have a cabin to stay in at the end of the week in Neel's Gap which will be nice.
Thanks to all who are following our journal and for your continued thoughts and prayers. God bless and see you on the trail.

Related Blogs

Monday, February 27, 2017

10th Anniversary of a Thru Hike - Part 3 - How a Dream is Born

It's always good to reminisce about those crucial pre-hike events that spawned the long distance adventure like back in '07 when I did the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. So it was in early Jan of 2007 when I reminisced about my older brother and the hikes we used to take long ago when I was a teen - helping to spawn a 30 year fascination with the trail and a desire to walk it all.

Here is my post from ten years ago honoring big brother for that and for his encouragement.

And if you are looking for an inaugural event to kick off an AT dream, the trail through Shenandoah National Park is a good place to start, and a place where dreams are born!

"I start off the New Year in anticipation of my hike just a mere two months. Hard to believe. But what
Getting the idea for the AT at age 15. 
better way to begin this year than with a word about my older brother, Rob.

You see, Rob and I first did a part of the AT back when I was a young teen. We did a day hike together, a section in Shenandoah National Park from Stony Man to Big Meadows. I never forgot it. We stopped at the Rock Spring Cabin where he cooked me up some soup on his stove. I felt like a real hiker, even though I was carrying my candy cane striped daypack ( I have a picture of the daypack on my hiking web site). We had a great time discovering views, a blooming chestnut tree, and just being hiking buddies.

Big brother on our hike in Shenandoah when I was a teen.
He fired up his stove and made us soup at Rock Spring Hut
Today I talked on the phone with him, and we shared about my upcoming hike this year. And he had nothing but encouraging words for me. To go for it all the way. To live my dream. And to do the hike for himself and his family.

I was so touched. But then again, I was touched too, long ago, on that section of the AT in

Rob, this hike's for you! Thanks for being there."

AT wander with big brother in Shenandoah - I did nine miles that day from
Little Stony Man to Big Meadows and was excstatic

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

10th Anniversary of a Thru Hike - Part 2 - One Week and Counting...

One week to go - ten years ago - before the adventure of My lifetime and also the title of a book I read every year from my teen years on - Ed Garvey's book - Appalachian Trail: Adventure of  Lifetime. The book is actually a nostalgic look at hiking in the 70's before the advent of the thru
hiker craze, free dried meals, lots of shelters, multiple trail magic feeds, no road walks, and internal frame packs. I recommend it.

Here is my post dated February 22, 2007 -

"I sit here pondering the fact I have but a mere one week before my feet hit the AT to complete the trail this year. I don't care to ponder the fact that I still have a zillion things left to accomplish. But I do ponder how the journey first began as a teenager thirty years ago and now has come to this momentous point in my life. And I'm even more excited and in awe when I hear of others who are sharing in my thrill of this journey - from my family who visited or e-mailed encouragement, to friends who have been praying, the neighbor next door giving me postcards to send to her son's 2nd grade class, to the people that have already volunteered along the trail's route for us to stop by and stay with them (from VA to PA to CT). All point to a trip in stages but one that must and will be completed, by the grace of God in Whose strength I can do all things.

I have enjoyed writing down tidbits of this pre-journey in my blog. Now the journey and its wonders will turn to my trail journal site. So be certain to check it out where I am and what's happening when the journey begins March 1st, 2007."

My friends threw a party for us

(Just to let you know - even the start date did not go as planned - more on that in Part 3. And also taught me a valuable lesson about "plans" - they are always fluid and/or should be thrown out even before Day One)

Our book chronicles our adventure physically, emotionally and spiritually I don't gloss it over either! Mountains, Madness and Miracles - 4000 Miles along the Appalachian Trail 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Trail Maps – Why Bother?

Being a frequent contributor to hiker forums, I have seen the Appalachian Trail map debate time and time again. And time and time again I see the same reasons crop up as to why hikers choose not to carry maps or even find them an essential part of their gear list -  

Common arguments against taking maps on the Appalachian Trail - 

-          The trail is blazed white and easy to follow. You can’t possibly get lost
-          I know the trail cold, so I don’t need them
-          I never plan to get hurt, face a drought, need a road to bail a friend out or meet a friend, avoid storm damage or any such calamity because my hikes go perfectly every time
-          My guidebook is good enough
-          Maps are too heavy
-          Maps are too expensive
-          Some maps cover such a small portion of the trail, they’re a waste
-          I don’t want to have to rely on a mail drop for a map
-          I can always look at someone else’s map
-          Maps are for whimps
-          Maps are only for those who like looking at something else besides the woods
-          Maps are only good for TP (toilet paper...)
-          Your own special reason…..

Now the Reasons Why you Need a Map – based on the above

-          Yes, the Appalachian Trail is blazed white. But did you know there are places where other areas are blazed white? State Game Lands of PA are. I have seen dirt roads with obscure white or other areas. Just because white blazes often signify the AT doesn’t mean other areas won't also use the same markings. And that can mean you veering into other areas with the potential of – uh – getting lost. Also, many designated wilderness areas have infrequent trail blazing. Or blazes are obscured due to rerouting or lost over time. It’s easy to miss them at road junctions. Or pranksters could have obliterated them. In different seasons trails can be hard to follow and blazes spaced far part or gone by blowdowns or chipped bark. Or fresh snow obliterates them. 
-          So you never plan to get hurt or encounter adverse weather which may necessitate your need to bail out or emergency camp at a place that has water? A map will show you areas that may suffice for an emergency campsite. Maps help point out road crossings or alternate trails that can lead to bail-outs and safety if you or a friend need them. Or if you run low on supplies. Maps help show detour routes if the trail is blocked by severe storm damage (i.e. hurricane damage in season or fire season when trails close) or high water from a t-storm. Maps also help locate adequate, uncontaminated water sources where reliable ones in a guidebook may not be flowing. Essentially, maps could save your hike and maybe even your life
-          Guidebooks are giving elevation profiles of the trail but don't have the other features a map contains. They do not have contour lines. You don't know for sure where that trail is really going from a guidebook. There are no side trails outlined on it except in verbage. They don't always point out all upcoming road crossings and trails, nor do they tell you where they lead. They cannot pinpoint obscure water sources you may need, esp in drought conditions or in beaver fever areas. Guidebooks provide words not visual illustrations of the trail and its surrounding areas
-          If you think a tool that could help you or save a life is too heavy, then maybe your aren’t cut out for the rigors of hiking
-          Ditto for $$. You’ll spend it on other things, maybe even brew or tobacco, but not on a map. Priorities - ?
-          Maps are never a waste if they are needed. OK – you may have been fine on a section without them. But no doubt the one time you need it, you won’t have it. 
-          Mail drops are fine for forwarding paper maps  lots of places besides the PO will take them. Another option is a trail map phone app. I have used this successfully on the Florida Trail. They are excellent resources and with lots of info about waypoints, water sources, towns, etc. 
-          Sure you can look at someone else’s map, but why not have your own? This is your hike. Carry
your own stuff and be self reliant. If you ask me, the whimp factor in the next response can also apply to the one who refuses to carry a map then must rely on another to provide it for him / her.
-          I believe the other answers are addressed above when one see the value in a map. Also, maps are part of Leave No Trace, that is, planning for your hike. Maps can be life savers. I have never known a hiker having to quit a hike because of carrying a map. But for sure some have had to quit because they did not have one – i.e., they got lost, they got hurt and didn’t get medical attention in time to help the injury, had to take an unintentional detour or other reasons.

Bottom line is, be prepared and take some form of a map.

Google clubs for the trails you wish to hike to look for maps

Guthooks Map App