Sunday, October 20, 2013

Why, yes, I DID hike the AT

"Getting to the top of the mountain is optional. Getting down is mandatory." - Ed Viesturs (Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker famous quotes)

On Saturday, I hit the road with a trusted companion, my two faithful canines, a pack full of equipment, food and wine, and high spirits.  We were on our way out of town for an overnight hiking adventure and I was terribly optimistic and not all concerned that I'm a slightly overweight, still somewhat out-of-shape (in spite of various halfhearted efforts), forty-something with badly arthritic knees.

I figured all of that would work out on the trail.

We headed first off to Apple Orchard Falls just north of Roanoke, VA.  Our (initial) plan was to hike the trail and camp there overnight before heading out in the morning to a day hike of the McAfee Knob, the most photographed spot on the Appalachian Trail (AT).  We ended up doing a quick-and-back 1.4 mile hike UP to the mostly overrated Apple Orchard Falls and then a brief maybe half mile down the trail to check out potential campsites.  Because we could STILL SEE our vehicle from the campsites, my companion thought maybe we should go ahead and drive to the McAfee Knob trail, hike a 1.3 mile hike to the first AT shelter and camp there.

I was totally game.  I'm always up for adventure.  And we'd done less that 2 miles (without packs) at that point so I was feelin' fresh and froggy.  And Sparky and Mr. McDougal were ready for anything we wanted to do.  They are dogs, after all, and don't have a say.

If you don't know about the AT, then you probably either a) don't live in one of the 14 states it crosses or b) don't give a flying flip about hiking.  The Appalachian Trail is kind of a not-to-be-realized dream of mine (see first paragraph of this blog for the reasons why).  I have read books about it and follow the tails of thru-hikers with absolute fascination.  To lose oneself somewhere on the AT only to find an improved version of you at the end is probably only one of the myriad of reasons people attempt the journey each year. I SO WANT to be one of those people.

The total length of the trail is approximately 2,200 miles.  The majority of the trail is wilderness and begins in Spring Mountain, Georgia and meanders through North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and ends at Mt. Katahdin in Maine.  The trail is marked along the way with white marks on trees like this:

Storied heroes attempt to hike the entire length of the trail in one season.   They are known as thru-hikers.  Thru-hikers typically spend about five to seven months hiking the trail in its entirety, often risking life and limb to do so. 


So, we landed at the parking area for McAfee Knob parking lot at around 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.  I was SUPER excited because I've never hiked even a small piece of the AT and I was eager to say "Yes, I DID hike the AT" just like I can tell people in TRUTH that I "went to Harvard" because I did, in fact, walk on that campus one day.

Let me set the scene a little bit more:
  • We had already hiked a little more than 2 miles that day, with no packs but with dogs.
  • My pack weighs approximately 35-40 pounds with all gear, food, and wine needed.  My guy's pack weighed probably 10 pounds more than mine because he is, first and foremost, a true Southern gentleman and carries ALL of the heavy stuff like the tent and all the cooking equipment.
  • We had two and half bottles of water with a water filter ready to filter more water at our campsite.  Our bottles were each 32 ounces.  So we had about 70 ounces of water for the two of us and the two dogs to make it the 1.3 miles to the first AT shelter (because you can ONLY camp at designated campsites on the AT). 
  • We needed to hike 1.3 miles to the first shelter.  If that didn't work out, there was another shelter another 1.4 miles away.  So, at WORST, we were looking at 2.7 miles with full packs.  Uphill.
  • We had about four hours of daylight to go.  Our guidebook told us that the ENTIRE hike to McAfee Knob was approximately four miles and estimated that you can hike to the Knob and BACK in four hours.  For a bit of foreshadowing here, I am going to FIND the author of that guidebook.  I will find him.  
And tomorrow, I will tell you why. For now, I've got to rest.  Damn.

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  1. Gotta write it while it's fresh.

    Dear person who wrote that McAfee Knob could be hiked in 4 hours:

  2. I am SO going to hike the AT one day.