What am I most scared of?

I’ve been asked this a lot.

There’s a bunch about thru-hiking I am worried/cautious about, but I think that’s different than being scared. I’m worried about running low on water, but not scared. I’m worried about being cold at night, but not scared. I’m worried about running into a bear with cubs, but that’s more exciting than scary. Sitting in a house right now, with the fridge 20 feet away, a water faucet right next to it and my comfy bed downstairs, it’s hard to know what about thru-hiking truly scares me. No doubt, come game time, this could change.

I’ve had a handful of surprisingly vivid nightmares about the AT (some have been ridiculous like everything I eat tasting like peanut butter and not being able to tie my boots), so for now I am deeming the more realistic nightmares the things I am most scared of. Here they are:

  1. Getting stuck in a lightening storm. Even though I probably have a greater chance of getting hit by a car than getting struck by lightening, this still freaks me out.
  2. All of my gear getting ripped to shreds by raccoons while I’m sleeping. Honest nightmare, very unlikely to happen.
  3. Mount Washington. By the time I get there I’m sure I will feel fine, but I’ve heard lots of stories and been warned of the weather dangers, so right now it feels very daunting. Plus, in my nightmare I fell off the side of the mountain…one of those kick yourself awake situations.
  4. Someone stealing my pack. Probably just the cynical New Yorker in me.
  5. Getting injured or getting sick. That would suck. Leaving the trail, if really necessary, would hopefully be on my own terms or for weather safety reasons.
  6. Feeling so lonely that I can’t enjoy the trail. In this nightmare no matter how quickly I hiked, I could never catch up to the hikers in front of me. Though I hope to have some personal reflection time, the goal isn’t to spend 6 months alone. Meeting people on the trail and having visitors will surely be highlights and some of my best memories.

Here’s to overcoming worries and to nightmares remaining nightmares.

Nothin’ to see here, BEARS!

Hanging a bear bag is deceptively quite a pain in the ass, but something I will want to do most nights. That said, if you ever find yourself needing to hang your food from potential bears, here’s my strategy:

Said kit ^^
  1. Get your bear hanging accoutrements. You will need a loooong rope, carabiner, small rock bag and food bag. I’m using the Zpack bear bagging kit.
Said knot ^^

2. Tie one end of rope to carabiner. A bowline knot seems like a good option.

Rock bag can be substituted with filled water bottle, shoe, anything heavy

3. Attach carabiner to rock bag and fill bag with some…you guessed it…rocks!

4. Find a relatively sturdy branch about 12-15 feet off the ground and not super close to your tent.

Try keeping unused end of rope organized to avoid tangling

5. WARNING: POTENTIAL FOR EMBARRASSMENT! Now “simply” throw the rock bag over the branch (if five failed attempts and a rock almost hitting you on the head is simple). It’s a good idea to make sure you aren’t standing on rope when you throw it.

Voila!

6. Take rock bag off carabiner and replace with food bag, then lift food bag up.

You may want to weigh down spare rope so a raccoon or other creature doesn’t come mess with it.

7. Now find something located diagonally from hanging food bag (not directly under). Make sure it is heavy enough to counteract weight of bag. Tie the rope to this, making sure there is little slack so bag doesn’t slide down. In this case I used a grill, but rocks, branches, tables are all good options.

Begone bears!

And that’s how to hang your bear bag!

Here’s a handy way to store the rope so it doesn’t get tangled up. Wrap it in a figure eight through your fingers and clip carabiner to hold together.

Special shout-out to the park manager who kicked me out because the campgrounds were technically closed. Not a single other person in the park, but he said I would “attract too many campers.” Glad to know my bear bag hanging is that intriguing!

Top Ten Thru-hiking Tips

I have found a lot of comfort in gathering as many thru-hiking tips as possible. It’s reassuring to hear other hikers address aspects of the hike I anticipate to be most challenging. I have read, listened to, and watched videos of experienced thru-hikers as well as 2019 AT hikers who have only been on trail for a few days. I have hiked exactly zero miles thus far, so I can take exactly zero credit for these tips – you’re welcome 🙂 Here’s a list of ten tips I will remind myself of during my thru-hike:

  1. Never quit on a bad day
  2. Learn to rest, not to quit
  3. Remember your why
  4. Don’t sweat gear picks too much (“It’s the Indian, not the arrow”)
  5. Don’t pack your fears
  6. Hike your own hike
  7. Hike for today, not tomorrow
  8. Slow down
  9. Keep a daily journal
  10. Take pictures of people, not only nature

Don’t fear, gear is here!

Last night we lost power from a thunderstorm, so this morning I broke out my camp kitchen to cook breakfast, which in turn inspired me to post my gear list. And heeeere it is:

Base weight (no food & water) = 20.67 pounds
Worn (items on body) = 5.04 pounds
Consumables (food & water) = 14.4 pounds max
Total max pack weight = 35.07 pounds

Part of the gear-buying process that has really impressed me is the customer service exhibited by many of the outdoor gear companies (REI, MountainSteals, Black Diamond, NEMO, etc.) Every company has been very easy to work with for gear replacements and, most often, has assured me if anything were to break while on trail, they would replace it for free. The warranties are awesome with all of these brands! It makes sense – thru-hikers are conducting free market research for these companies, and the companies are learning a ton from these consumers who are putting the most genuine wear and tear on their gear. Not to mention, most of my gear research and purchasing was influenced by word of mouth.

Here are all of the gear items starting at top left corner, going down, then back to top of tarp:

Magma 17 sleeping bag
  • Tent footprint (under everything): NEMO Hornet 2 person
  • Pack: Osprey Aura AG 65L
  • Sleeping pad: Therm-a-rest Z Lite Sol
  • Trekking poles: Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork
  • Boots: Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX
  • Sleeping bag: REI Women’s Magma 17
  • Sleeping bag liner: Silk Cocoon
  • Camp shoes: good ol’ Crocs
  • Tent: NEMO Hornet Elite 2 person
NEMO Hornet Elite 2 person tent
  • Pack rain cover: Osprey ultralight (size large)
  • Pot: TOAKS 750 ml Titanium
  • Stove: MSR Pocket Rocket II
  • Fuel: MSR brand to start (most butane mixes work)
  • Spork: Rakuen Titanium long-handled
  • Bear bag, rock bag, rope: Z-pack bear bagging (to store food)
  • Tarp square: to stand/sit on wet ground *luxury item
  • Pillow: Sea to Summit Aeros *luxury item
  • Wallet: Chums Surfshorts
  • Winter hat: REI beanie
  • Bandana (use to clean pot, gear)
  • Water filtration system: Sawyer squeeze mini
  • Trowel/emergency snow stake: REI
  • 3 carabeners: 1 for crocs, 1 for misc., one for water bottle
  • Fleece layer: Mom’s from the 90’s probably
  • Quick dry t-shirt: Under Armour
  • Quick dry long-sleeve: Nike
  • Bug net
  • Sports bra: SmartWool
  • Electronics: Black Diamond Cosmo headlamp, Anker PowerCore Lite battery pack, Osprey dry sack
  • Merino wool layer: NTS Mid 250 Crew shirt
  • Down jacket: Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer
Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer
  • Hiking leggings: Patagonia (I think)
  • 2 buffs: one wool, one quick dry
  • Toiletries (not complete): toothbrush, hand sanitizer, wet ones, odor free plastic bags, quick dry towel
  • First aid/emergency (not complete): leukotape, knife, pepper spray, tent repair tape, stake splint, stretch band
  • Rain jacket: Outdoor Research Helium II
  • Rain pants: Marmot precip
  • Underwear x 2: Exxofino (NOT Victoria’s Secret)
  • Merino wool sock liners: REI
  • Merino wool socks x 2: Darn Tough

Items not pictured:

  • Zpack pouch to put on pack strap (easy access items)
  • Smart water bottles x 2
  • AWOL Northbound guide
  • Journal & pen
  • Long underwear top and bottom
  • Cho-Pat Knee brace
  • Golf ball for rolling out feet
  • Probably other stuff…

25 days!!

For Grandpa David

Yesterday afternoon Dad and I were fortunate to be by Grandpa David’s side in Cincinnati as he took his last breath and passed very peacefully. Just five days prior, Grandpa had called me to say he read an article about a Miami student who thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail last year. He was excited to share it with me and said he would stick it in the mail. Despite being very agile with his iPad (he loved that thing), he enjoyed sending newspaper clippings and articles in the mail every now and then. It is more meaningful to receive a piece of physical mail than an email.

Today I am home before heading back to Ohio for the funeral. I had no doubt the article from him would arrive in the mail. He was always prompt about sending letters for any occasion. The last piece of mail I will ever receive from Grandpa David was in my mailbox this afternoon.

Grandpa was supportive and excited for my thru-hike since I first told him about it – asking lots of questions, mostly about my safety on the trail. Grandpa and Grandma had a beautiful and adventurous life together and it was obvious what they were passionate about: each other, family, the arts, travel, exercise and reading. Grandpa filled each day with his passions, up until the very end. He never left Grandma’s side, he did his exercises every day until his final week, and when he passed, symphonic music was playing (a song he could likely name).

Grandpa is an inspiration to live each day doing what you love. Discover your passion and live it. I hope he is proud of me for getting out on the trail. I am proud of the husband, father, and grandfather he was and the legacy he leaves. I know if hiking had been a passion of his, he would not have shied away from the challenge of a thru-hike. He would complete it. In fact, he shared with me his memory of hiking Katahdin when he was 15. He remembered a 13 foot rock pile at the top, which made the 5,267 ft. mountain actually 5,280 feet tall. In that same message he said, “I know you will have a great experience [on the AT] and I wish you god speed and good luck.”

Grandpa adored his art collection, which covers the walls of their apartment. He referred to this collection as his “eye candy.” Sharing information about the different pieces with friends and family always brought him joy. The mountains, trees, flowers and streams are my “eye candy” and I will not take a single day out on the trail for granted.

I love you, Grandpa.

How do I prepare for a thru-hike?

You’re off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so…get on your way!

– Dr. Seuss

Everyone has different approaches to thru-hiking prep and the internet is flooded with opinions around what you should and shouldn’t do. Some start preparing two years out, while others (like me!) start prep 6 months prior to hitting the trail. It is important to consider what YOU will need to accomplish prior to leaving in order for YOU to feel as comfortable as possible on the trail. This will depend on your level of experience living outdoors, hiking, general survival skills, circumstances you need to take care of at home, etc.. Some people are extreme planners – planning every little aspect of their hike prior to leaving. Some people are comfortable not planning much at all and seeing how the hike unfolds. I fall somewhere in the middle.

Here I’ll share what has been most important in my preparation prior to leaving. I have emphasized the mental preparation more than the physical preparation for a reason! Surprisingly, most unsuccessful thru-hikes are due to mental fatigue rather than physical. A popular motto on the trail is “hike your own hike,” so I am advocating to “prep your own prep” (if that even makes sense).

I have been getting mentally prepared by:

  • Getting clear on why I am hiking the trail. On the roughest days, reminding myself why I wanted to do this is in the first place will be a huge motivator. It might be easy to lose sight of the why after being in the cold and rain for three days straight or when the mosquitoes start driving me crazy, so I am taking my list of reasons with me on my phone as a constant reminder. My friend Tess, who successfully thru-hiked, told me to never quit on the first day I feel the urge to. Give it a few days. Things will get better and I will be glad I didn’t get off the trail.
I’ll be using the AT Guide on the trail as a resource for daily mileage, elevation, water sources, shelters, etc.
  • Having a comprehensive understanding of the trail from a geographical and climatic standpoint. This may seem obvious, but for me having a clear understanding of the terrain, elevation change, weather, towns I will be passing through, etc. is very important to feeling prepared. Weather is also a huge factor in determining what type of gear I need.
Odyssa (Jennifer’s trail name) hikes the AT after graduating college, while she figures out what she wants to do after. I found this book more relatable than A Walk in the Woods or Wild.
  • Reading about other peoples’ thru-hiking journeys. Though everyone has their own experience, it has been very eye-opening for me to read about authentic thru-hiking stories that explain the trials, tribulations and highlights. It is important to not fantasize about the trail or have unrealistic expectations that I will have an epiphany or life-altering experience. I am going to walk in the woods and live outside for six months. There will be awesome days and there will be crappy days and what I gain from the experience is yet to come. Here are two of my favorite reads:
    • Becoming Odyssa
    • A Walk in the Woods
Homemade Wanderlust was one of my favorite Youtubers to watch and learn about thru-hiking. She has tons of awesome tips I never would have thought of!
  • Researching, researching, and more researching! This isn’t important to everyone, but I will feel more comfortable on the trail knowing I have done as much research as possible. This involves everything from how to hang my bear bag, to using my water filter, to hitch-hiking into town, to planning my mileage strategy. These are some great books and sites:
  • Preparing some resupply boxes. My approach to resupply boxes has significantly changed from a few months ago. Initially I was planning to send myself resupply boxes about 2-3 times a month, but because I feel that will limit my trail schedule and force me to get off the trail when I don’t always need to, I am now planning only about 6-8 boxes in total. Though some people use zero resupply boxes, having some will help me feel more comfortable because they will include: prescription refills, home-cooked meals I dehydrated ahead of time, gear that needs to be replaced, and anything else I may need but won’t be able to find in towns.
  • Testing my gear. Pretty self explanatory. It’s easier to make mistakes or replace gear now than on the trail. I will also feel more confident on the trail when I already know how to pitch my tent, organize my pack, work my stove, etc. I have a hunch that these little tidbits of knowledge will be hugely important confidence boosters in an environment where I am constantly learning and adapting day in and day out. I found a ton of great gear deals on this site:
  • Making a ROUGH itinerary.  I am by no means making a strict schedule because so many unknowns on the trail will make this frustrating and almost impossible to stick to. That said, for the sake of coordinating logistics for anyone visiting me on the trail, a general itinerary with average mileage and general location has been helpful. This is also helpful for mapping out possible post offices to send resupply boxes.
  • Making Spotify playlists. Not much to say here. I want to have to music, will not have phone service at certain points, and don’t want to drain my battery streaming. I shared playlists on the last post, “I’m singin’ in the woods.”

I have been getting physically prepared by:


LighterPack.com is an awesome resource I used to help with gear planning and pack weight breakdown!
  • Hiking with my full pack weight and poles twice a week. My base pack weight (minus food, water, and what I am wearing) is 20.67 lbs (it comes down to the ounces, people!) and I will have anywhere from 8 to 14 pounds of food and water at a time, hopefully maxing at 35 lbs total. I have been stuffing my pack with sweatshirts and weights to avoid taking all my gear on practice hikes. Other hikers have given me some funny looks when I have my full pack on day hikes. I promise I’m not this excessive! It’s all in the name of thru-hiking!
I’m starting off with Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX. These will hopefully last me around 800 miles before I’ll need a new pair (or switch to another boot or trail runner).
  • Wearing my boots as much as possible at first. Boots are arguably the most important gear item – you want to be sure your boots work for you. Breaking in my boots was necessary because I went from at first hating them to really loving them! I chose to get high ankle boots, which I haven’t hiked in for a while, so my ankles weren’t used to the pressure points. After the first time wearing them I was convinced I needed a different pair, but I gave them a couple more tries, broke them in a bit, and now I am very excited to use them on the trail! There are different ways to tie boots depending on what is comfortable, so I am glad I figured this out ahead of time!
I’ve been using the MIR adjustable weighted vest. Fashionable, I know!
  • Using a weighted vest at the gym. Yes, I look like a huge dork. Yes, people think I’m an extreme try-hard. Yes, I make a fool of myself taking it on and off. All in the name of thru-hiking!! It’s not always feasible to get an actual hike in, so my weighted vest has been a good alternative to use on the treadmill (10-15 degree incline) at the gym. I have been doing this 2-3 times a week for about 3 months and definitely saw the benefit the first time I hiked with my fully weighted pack! The only way to truly get in thru-hiking shape is to do it, but I’m hoping my body won’t be totally shocked when I start carrying this weight every day. Added benefit: I put the weights from the vest in my pack for my practice hikes.
  • Sleeping in the backyard in my tent and sleeping bag.  You can laugh. Hey, if it makes the adjustment to sleeping conditions on the trail any easier, I’m giving it a whirl! I suggest letting your neighbors know ahead of time why there’s someone sleeping in a tent in your backyard.
  • Making myself a little uncomfortable in daily situations. My friend Andy suggested this to me a few months ago and I think it’s an awesome tip. He suggested I become more conscious of times I feel a bit uncomfortable, acknowledge it, and put up with the discomfort, rather than making myself more comfortable. I have been doing this in simple ways, including wearing lighter jackets when I go outside, cutting coffee out of my diet, always taking the stairs, walking places whenever possible, etc.. These decisions seem trivial now, but that’s the challenge of thru-hiking: constantly facing minor and major discomforts and learning to deal with them.
  • Stretching on a daily basis.  I will need to stretch multiple times a day on the trail, so I plan to have a simple routine I can do at camp or even on the trail with my pack on. IT band and knee flare ups will be the most probable issues.
  • Other recommended precautions. The gear I got does not require this, but it is recommended to waterproof certain boots with a product such as Nikwax and to waterproof certain tents with seam sealant. I will be treating my clothes with Permethrin a few times throughout the trail to keep the bugs away.

Hope this was helpful for anyone considering a thru-hike or similar adventure! I enjoyed recapping 🙂 Below are instructions for how to follow this blog if you do not have a WordPress account:

I’m singin’ in the woods

Though I’m looking forward to a technology detox (and can surely use one), having music on the trail is very important to me. Until I’m actually hiking it, I can only imagine how my trail experience will unfold. I picture myself hiking some days without touching my phone, only listening to the sounds of nature, while other days I’ll want to drown out the sound of rain with some King Princess or need an extra push up a mountain courtesy of Arctic Monkeys.

I plan to be very conscious of limiting my phone use (and the lack of charging stations outdoors will encourage this), but music is a huge motivator for me and I look forward to listening in an environment other than my car, bedroom or office.

Service will be spotty, so here are some playlists I’ve been putting together for the trail:

When I’m in the mood to hear some of my favorites. This playlist will get me up the next 1,000 feet of elevation: https://open.spotify.com/user/reichesj/playlist/6xNKJOO4dpjRxDna3hAKr0?si=rbH3RRNHTnyvEolg7cD8Kg

For times I’m relaxed walking through the woods, by the campfire, or in my tent. These are slower, mellow songs: https://open.spotify.com/user/reichesj/playlist/4aVRqH3VawJ9dNeVs9hUtV?si=HKqOTcXbRwi6I7_RcXIyNw

Breaking this one out for any bear encounters. Obnoxious songs you can’t resist singing along to. Sing these and the bears will have to stay away: https://open.spotify.com/user/reichesj/playlist/6P9gHW2i3RPxhSK0Y4HuRu?si=GsREdDxnS2KejX_2NqubjQ

Let’s hope this one pushes the rents to do a few more miles when they meet me out there. Classic oldies but goodies: https://open.spotify.com/user/reichesj/playlist/1hUl0D3WHiuoc336aaWtAX?si=bdYgzQ8mSmC8548TDkSZYg

For the inevitable rough days. Sometimes you just want to listen to downer music when you’re already down. Why is that?https://open.spotify.com/user/reichesj/playlist/3TUPxOHjS82Jd47ZvDeF4O?si=n28YuvQLSG2teanBYXXHnw