Nina Baxley: AT Thru-Hiker

Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania
Gorp.com

September 17, 2000
Miles hiked: 895.1
Miles remaining: 1,272.0
Location: Delaware Water Gap, PA
When I write my updates for GORP.com each week, I try to highlight my experiences from the previous week. This week has had its highlights, but my focus this time will be on a"typical" day for me (as if any days on the AT are typical!). Each day out here is special and different; however, as in "real life," I've developed several daily routines on the AT. When I was planning my thru-hike, I enjoyed reading thru-hiker journals because I liked learning of the day-to-day life of a thru-hiker. So, following are some highlights of MY day-to-day life as an AT thru-hiker.

I usually wake up at around 6:15 a.m. I love that time of morning; I feel so cozy in my sleeping bag, and it's so warm and comfy in my little tent. I do my morning leg stretch, which always feels WONDERFUL.

Many hikers prefer to sleep in the shelters along the trail. I don't. I like the privacy of my tent, which also protects me from the mosquitos and the shelter mice. I stay in shelters occasionally but, unless it's rainy outside, I set up my tent.

I'm usually out of my tent by 6:30. I eat breakfast—pop-tarts—and pack up. On a good day, I hit the trail by 7:15. Lately, though, I've been lazy; for the last week or so, I haven't started hiking until 7:45.

I'm a morning person, and the early morning is my favorite time to hike. I start slow, as it takes a few minutes for my legs to warm up. The woods are so peaceful and quiet in the morning, and the sun is soft—not glaring and oppressive the way it's been in the afternoon lately. I don't see many hikers; the northbound thru-hikers are long-gone, many of them in Maine by now. Only on the weekends do I see many hikers, most of them dayhikers or weekend backpackers from New York or New Jersey.

So I hike alone all morning, stopping every 45 minutes or so to check the map and the AT Data Book. I love looking at my maps. I play kind of a mileage game with myself: if a landmark (such as a road or a shelter) is two miles away, I try to make those two miles within an hour. That way, I can tell what my mileage is, and I can estimate how long it will take me to get to the next landmark—and how long it will take me to get to the shelter I'm heading to for the night.

I also stop several times during the day for water and Snickers breaks. At about 10:00, when I find myself feeling a little hungry and tired, I stop, take my pack off, sit down, and enjoy my snack. Snickers and Nutrageous are the two candy bars of choice for thru-hikers, as they pack more fat and calories per ounce than any other candy bar. I enjoy them while I can, since I won't be able to after I get home and quit hiking big miles every day!

The other snacks I eat are Power Bars, Clif Bars, and Luna Bars. I didn't like any of these"energy" bars before I started my hike, but now I love them. My appetite has changed in some strange ways. Other foods I've always hated are raisins and tomatoes, but I love to eat both now that I'm on the AT. Weird!

My lunch generally consists of granola bars dipped in peanut butter, a Fruitfull Square, dried fruit, and a big hunk of Monterey Jack cheese. Mmm! I like to eat lunch at a shelter when I can, because then I can read the shelter register. Each shelter has a register, or a notebook, and hikers sign as they pass through. Some just sign their name, but most write a little more than that. By reading the registers, I've been able to follow the progress of hikers who have passed me, particularly Tenbrooks, Blue Skies and Matt. That's one advantage of hiking more slowly than everyone else!

As in"real life," I get sluggish in the afternoon. If I'm only planning a 10- or 12-mile day, I'll spend part of the afternoon at a nice spot with a view, if I can.

On a big-mileage day, the afternoon seems to drag on forever. I get tired and clumsy, and this is when I'm most likely to twist my weak ankle. Around 2:30, I pep myself up with a Power Bar. Still, I really don't like hiking in the afternoon.

I generally hike by myself, which is the way I like it. I occasionally enjoy hiking with others; good conversation can make the miles fly by. When I'm hiking with a group, though, I always feel like I'm either slowing my partners down or making them hike faster. So, if I do fall in with a group, I often find myself lagging behind. Before I know it, I'm hiking by myself again!

I like to get to the shelters early, especially since it's beginning to get dark earlier. If I can finish hiking by 4:00, I'll have time to read the register, set up my tent, relax, socialize, cook and eat dinner, and wash my dishes before it gets dark. Like many thru-hikers, I usually eat Lipton Noodles for dinner. An anagram for "Lipton Noodles" is "O Indolent Slop." I haven't gotten tired of "O Indolent Slop" yet, surprisingly, after nearly three months.

I'm usually in bed by 7:30. That's earlier than most thru-hikers turn in, but I find that I can barely stay awake past 8:30 ("hikers' midnight" on the AT).

Turning in for the night. This is when my favorite time of my whole day begins. It's my "winding down" time, and I relish every minute of it. I change into my capilene pants and top, snuggle into my sleeping bag, don my headlamp, open my journal, and start writing. My muscles are weary from the day's hike, and I know I'm in for a good, restful night's sleep. I think and write about the day—the sights I've seen, the people I've met, the things I've thought about—and make plans for the next day. Sometimes I'll read some poetry before I go to bed, but usually I'm too tired. I close my journal, turn off my headlamp, and do my evening leg stretch. I'm usually asleep by 8:00.

My hike has definitely changed in character since its early days in Maine and New Hampshire. I've had a chance to establish these routines, now that I'm accustomed to "trail life."

Thru-hiking is still an adventure, but in a different way from before. In June and July, the AT was busy whipping me into trail shape, and the weather was busy scaring me out of my wits. Now, the trail is easier and the weather has been mostly sunny and warm. I'm no longer writing things like, "every day is such a struggle," and "the challenges never end," in my journal.

Instead, I'm just enjoying myself. I'm enjoying the easy terrain and appreciating the nice weather. I think I value these things even more after surviving Maine and the Whites!

I'm also enjoying the fact that I don't have to rush to hike 17 or 18 miles in a day. I'm stopping at the overlooks, having lunch at delicatessens near the AT (and there are plenty of them!), meeting new people in towns and on the trail, and making new friends. One morning at Clarence Fahnestock State Park in New York, I spent several enjoyable hours canoeing on Canopus Lake with Dan, a consultant who was taking a day off from work to go fishing. Another day, I took a three-hour break at a picnic area near Bear Mountain and made friends with Yossi, a first-time backpacker out to celebrate his 50th birthday.

Other days, I stop to talk to dayhikers and weekend backpackers about my thru- hike. I enjoy hearing their hiking stories as well. I've learned that there are MANY people out there who are dreaming of an AT thru-hike. For the time being, they have too many responsibilities, or they don't have the time or money needed for a thru-hike. I especially enjoy sharing stories of my hike with the "dreamers." I've been where they are, and I know exactly how they feel.

These are the kinds of experiences that I've really cherished during this phase of my hike: the kinds that occur only when I'm willing to slow down, stop, take it easy for a few hours, talk to people, and enjoy life as it is—right here and right now. Hiking the AT is about miles, but it's about so much more.

The last week has been pretty exciting for me. I caught up with Matt in Vernon, NJ. I hadn't seen him since Gorham, NH. A couple of days later, Blade, another thru-hiker I hadn't seen since Gorham, showed up at the shelter where we were camping for the night.

As for the rest of my original "trail family" . . . I'm still a couple of days behind Blue Skies and Tenbrooks. I believe Isis is about a week behind me. Jackrabbit took some time off the trail to let her foot heal; I don't know if she's back on the trail yet or not. O.D. and Bugbiter are back home in Virginia, having left the trail in New Hampshire. Cool Hand Luke is a day or so behind me, hiking with Orren, whom I met in the Whites. Apollo, Man in the Moon, Hypothetical, and Looking Glass, all of whom started the trail with me, are about a week ahead. I don't know about Greg, the hiker with whom I climbed the Big K. I haven't seen his name in the registers, but that doesn't mean he's off the trail. He may not sign registers, or he may be using a trail name that I don't know.

From what I've heard, there are quite a few southbounders on this section of trail, many of whom are just a few days ahead of or behind me. It will be nice to see some of my old trail friends again as my hike progresses. I'm in no hurry to catch up with anyone, though. I'll just keep hiking. The trail has a way of sending friends—old and new—my way. All I need to do is hike without hurrying and take my time without sacrificing my schedule to get home in time for Christmas. I'm doing fine. Life is still good on the Appalachian Trail.

What is she carrying? Check out Nina's gear list and pack weight
See the trail dispatch archive for previous weeks.


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