Monday, December 15, 2014

Appalachian Trail Expense Report

The Appalachian Trail attracts people from all walks of life, from penniless college graduates to retired millionaires. Consequently, thruhikers have finished their hikes having spent very little, quite a lot, or somewhere in between. Some thruhikers have to quit because they don't have enough money to finish.

When Nepsis and I decided we wanted to thruhike the Appalachian Trail we had almost two years to make as much money as we could. We worked at Target, part-time, for a payment not too far beyond minimum wage. We took every extra hour we could to work as close to forty hours each week and lived frugally. If you want to know how frugally we lived in order to save money, you can check out my blog post about it here. By the time we set foot on the Trail we had saved about $14,000 and since we decided not to defer student loan payments or stop sponsoring a child in poverty, we had about $12,000 we could use. That made our budget easy. We could spend $1,000 per person per month, assuming we finished in six months. We realized pretty quickly we'd never be able to spend that much even if we tried. Here is the breakdown of what we actually spent:

Total Money Spent During Thru-hike: $7,705.89

Food to eat while hiking and small gear items like denatured alcohol/wet wipes: $1,282.44
Stays at hostels, motels, and hotels and Great Smoky Mountain permits: $1,861.21
Meals at restaurants, snacks purchased to eat/drink while on a break from hiking for a significant length of time: $3,286.64
Gear purchased during the thruhike: $698.33
Non-essential items purchased for the purpose of entertainment or non-Trail travel: $187.27
ATM cash withdraws spent on all of the above with no trace of what it was specifically spent on: $390   

When I look at this data I am astonished by how little we spent. During the first month of our hike we were a lot more careful, and didn't satisfy every whim, but the last two months we certainly spent a lot of money at restaurants and on yummy treats along the way. We also spent quite a bit of money on motel/hotel rooms since we were a couple and wanted more privacy than the hostels offered. We didn't spent a lot of money on alcohol though, which can obviously drain money fast. Food for the Trail is mostly very cheap and the only really necessary expense so anyone can hike for cheap as long as they can resist temptations when in town, which is no small feat. At the very least you should expect to have to purchase a second pair of shoes, but we also had to buy trekking poles since we didn't begin with them. The non-essential purchases we made during the hike included books and round-trip train tickets to Washington D.C. and New York City, and even an umbrella when we were caught in rain in D.C. We spent five days in NYC with friends who lived there, but we did eat out for many meals which drastically increased our restaurant expenses. I felt like we ate at restaurants every chance we got and after the first and a half, stayed at a hostel, motel, or hotel once a week and yet we stayed way under budget. We were only on the Trail for five months and two days so that helped keep costs down as well, compared to other who were on the Trail a month or more longer. All in all, I think the take-away is that you one can thruhike on a couple thousand dollars quite comfortably, and even if you want to be able to spend more money in towns, a couple more thousand should be sufficient. I think it is best for anyone who is hiking to create a budget of how much money you can spend per mile hiked. If you're like us you'll find you can't spend nearly that much and will no longer have to worry about it anymore. If you're on a tighter budget, you will find lots of opportunities to save money by not staying overnight in a town or splurging on alcohol or a restaurant meal. You'll also find the best way to save money is when people give you a bunch of food, a hot meal, or even a place to stay the night!   

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Post-Trail Gear Review

Most of you probably don't want to read this. The only people I can imagine who might want to continue reading are all those to-be-thruhikers who find their minds wandering every day to the adventure that is ahead of them when they first step foot on Springer or Katahdin or somewhere in between. I remember those days when I would read every blog and forum I could find about gear. Down vs synthetic sleeping bag? Gloves? What should be in my first-aid kit? I'm not going to debate anything here though, I am simply going to review how much we used each item and how well it seemed to work. This is the comprehensive review of all our gear!


Arrowhead 8.0 Backpack

This cheap, used, Walmart backpack held up surprisingly well. We knew it wouldn't last the entire trip, but it was light and we already owned it. The one problem with it was that the side pockets did not stretch so it was difficult to remove and replace water bottles. Eventually, the cheap fabric and stitching started breaking in various places and Nepsis finally purchased a new backpack in Daleville, VA. Still, it lasted quite long for what it was worth.

Golite Jam 50L Pack 

I absolutely loved this backpack. It is the best backpack I've ever owned. It was very comfortable, but I've heard from other thruhikers that it wasn't comfortable for them. I believe this is because I carried mostly between 15-25 lbs of gear inside during the entire hike. It is designed for lighter loads and so if you have too much weight it can get quite uncomfortable. The pack is very simple and light. I love that it doesn't have a top pouch that always seemed to knock around and scratch my neck on all my other backpacks. It does have a pouch on the front which is perfect for small items and items that need to be removed often, like a guide book. Another great feature was the small pockets on the hip-belt which was perfect for our camera-phone and a small notebook with pen. The side pockets were stretchy, but firm and held two water bottles on each side well. The fabric held up well with no visible tearing anywhere. One of the side pockets did snag a tear on a thick branch toward the end of the hike, but it still worked. I think this is the best backpack for someone like me, who isn't carrying very much weight and appreciates simplicity and functionality.  

Compactor or Contractor Bags

We bought compactor bags to use as backpack liners to keep our gear dry which was very cheap and effective. Actually, our compactor bags got holes in them pretty quickly, but we replaced them with contractor bags we found in a hiker box at the Blueberry Patch Hostel in Georgia and these bags lasted us a long time. The contractor bags seems to be a bit thicker and strong than the compactor bags, but I haven't actually compared the two side-by-side. However, our contractor bags never got holes in them. We replaced them twice during our entire hike and that was only because we found new ones in hiker boxes and decided just to replace them because of the dirt and leaves and other grime that can collect in them over the course of a thruhike. The most effective way to keep your gear dry with a contractor bag is to twist off the end before shutting your pack. Even in the most torrential rains that lasted hours, our gear always stayed perfectly dry using contractor bags. If you can't find contractor bags in the trash bag section or your store, you may find them with the hardware.  

Gear Purchased on the Trail

Gregory Fury 40 Small

Nepsis bought this small backpack in Daleville, VA but it was plenty big at that point without all of our winter gear.

Mountainsmith Pyrite 7075 (not pictured)

When we first stepped out on the Trail we did not have trekking poles. We had never used them before and though I had read in many places they were extremely helpful, we decided not to buy them to save some money. We always knew we could buy them on the Trail if we felt like we should. I don't remember seeing a single thruhiker without trekking poles. One hiker had some sticks and promptly bought a pair of trekking poles at Neel Gap. As we started the long descent into the NOC in North Carolina, Nepsis' knees were absolutely killing her. We knew trekking poles would help and we just bought the cheapest pair there which were these Mountainsmith poles. They performed their function. Nepsis' knees instantly felt better and never hurt like that again. I was a bit skeptical if trekking poles would really be necessary for someone like me who didn't ever have any ankle or knee problems. Still, when we weren't making a descent, I used one pole and Nepsis the other. I noticed it did make it a bit easier to hike. As I hiked with the pole I thought that I'd write in this review that I couldn't fully recommend that everyone should get trekking poles. But then I got to Rocksylvania. The trekking pole saved me from many nasty falls and I began to see how essential hiking poles are even if you only use one. I would definitely recommend all thruhikers to buy trekking poles, but definitely not a cheap pair like these. Since you're using them all day everyday it is essential to obtain a pair of trekking poles that are well-built and can last that long. In Pennsylvania one of our poles got stuck so that it could not collapse which isn't terrible, but annoying. The other pole, though, broke beyond repair. The entire handle came off and we saw that it was just glued to the pole. Using it so much worked it loose. Fortunate for us, the next day we found another pole someone had discarded in a hiker box because one of the parts that could extend was also stuck at a certain length. I used this one until we finally bought a nice pair.  
Leki Thermolite Antishock Trekking Poles

These trekking poles were definitely expensive, but definitely worth it. They are so light, but so sturdy and I could feel the difference when holding these right away. They felt great, the handle is sturdy, and instead of twisting-locks they have lever-lock mechanism which work a lot better. Trekking poles are a real lifesaver so make sure you buy a nice pair. I prefer just using one, but most people go with the pair.  

Sleeping Gear

ZPacks 20 Degree 900 Fill Power Down Twin Size Quilt 

A great way to save on weight and spend a lot of money at the same time is to buy a ZPacks sleeping quilt. It is super light and since our main goal was to reduce pack weight as much as possible, this was a great buy. Weight was cut down even further because we got the twin size quilt which only makes sense to buy if you are hiking as a couple. It worked well because we could also share body heat. It was super warm, but on some of the coldest nights we did have to wear all our clothes to cut the rest of the cold out. We also, depending on how we were positioned for the night, couldn't always fit the quilt snugly and warmly around us. We are both 5'6'' so we thought the medium size quilt at 5'8'' would work, but it probably would have been better to get an even larger size just so we fit a little better. Unlike most people, we did not swap out our winter bag for a summer bag. It was nice to not spend more money on another bag and deal with having it sent to us. Since this is a quilt there is a lot more room to open it up and let cool air flow in. There were only a few mornings we woke up drenched in sweat because of the heat, but this never impaired our ability to sleep since our bodies were so tired each night from hiking all day long.

Therm-a-rest Neoair Xlite Air Mattress

I really loved these because they were light, very packable, very warm, and supportive. Honestly, to me it was like sleeping on a regular mattress. Somehow before we even left for the Trail one of them got a small hole, but it was easily fixed with one of the patches they come with for such repairs. Other than that, we never had to make any other additional repairs during the entire hike. They only take a minute or two to blow up, which was never a problem. The only downside was that they make noise when you turn on them, however, sleepers on the Trail are used to noises and are extremely tired so I don't think anyone ever couldn't sleep because of the noise.      

Stick on Loops with Elastic Straps from ZPacks (not pictured)

These are only necessary for couples who are sharing a quilt like we were. The sleeping pads/air mattresses will not stay together during the night when sharing a quilt. They will slide far apart so something is needed to hold them together. We got these loops connected to an adhesive strip to do the job. They didn't work though. They didn't keep the pads cinched tight together so they still slipped apart some every night and the adhesive started to peel off only after a couple of weeks on the Trail. In Virginia one of the loops peeled completely off rendering the entire system useless. These simply did not work, but ZPacks also has a velcro solution that might work better.

Therm-a-rest Universal Couple Kit (not pictured)

Fortunately, we found this solution for connecting our pads at the outfitter in Daleville, VA. These worked very well since they are basically just two long straps that could wrap around both sleeping pads easily. The sleeping pads still did slide apart a little some nights though.

Hilleberg Anjan 2 Tent

This is a solid two-person tent. There are many other lighter options, especially if you only need a one-person tent or want to use trekking poles to hold up one's tent. However, we didn't begin our hike with trekking poles. The best characteristics of this tent for us was that it was simple to set up, stood strong, and was very warm. It did great at keeping cold and wind out and we used the tent more often at the beginning of our hike when it was colder to keep us warm. Some nice small features of the tent is a line across the top where one can hang wet clothes, a couple of pockets for various sundries, and the inside of it is yellow which is a nice, cozy color for one's little home away from home. The tent withstood rain quite well, though some splash-back should be expected especially if the tent is set up where rainwater flows as it builds up. Of course, sleeping on sleeping pads effectively places the sleepers inside out of reach of any water that may get in. Perhaps the biggest letdown of the tent was the terrible condensation that formed inside the tent during the night when the humidity was high. Most days the tent was dry, but toward the end of summer in the northern states the condensation was quite bad. I understand every tent has issues with this, but this tent has two layers (it basically is a tent inside a tent) that is supposed to prevent this from happening. the condensation didn't ever fall on us, but it soaked the tent so when we packed it up wet we had to carry it heavier. All in all, we were happy with this tent and it definitely served its purpose as a three-season tent, keeping us warm and dry.    


Cabela's E.C.W.C.S. Watch Cap

This hat kept my head warm on many a cold hike and while sleeping in cold conditions. As I hiked it would get to hot and so I'd pop it off until we stopped for a break or at the shelter at the end of the day. My wife had a balaclava and a hat like this, but she never used her hat so if you are bringing a balaclava you probably don't need a hat. I sent my hat home after the first several cold weeks and never felt like I needed it again. 


I barely used this so I sent it home and never missed it. Some people like them though and it is almost weightless so not such a big deal.

Columbia Cool Creek Long-sleeve Crew Shirt

I loved this shirt because it kept me warm, but also wasn't too warm when I used it on cooler evenings in the summer months. Probably my favorite thing about this shirt was thumbholes in the sleeves to keep the sleeves from bunching down under my jacket.

C9 by Champion Men's Ventilating Pieced Tee

I brought this shirt to wear around camp and it was especially useful to wear in town when my hiking shirt was getting laundered. Unfortunately, I accidentally forgot it in a hotel room after a couple of months. Since I am so frugal I never bought a replacement and wore my down jacket or long-sleeve when laundering my hiking shirt which was bearable, but hot in the summer months while walking around trail towns.  

Asics Favorite Short Sleeve

This shirt was perfect for hiking. It was a nice bright color, light, and apparently didn't smell as bad as some other shirts do, though I cannot conform this myself since all thruhikers noses adapt to the hiker stench pretty quickly.

Taramar Men's Military Fleece 3.0 Long Sleeve Crew Shirt

This was great for the colder months, especially when at a shelter and sleeping in the frigid air. Some nights we wore every piece of clothing to keep warm and it seemed to be just enough to keep the cold out. This certainly helped a lot in the first months, but sent it home after that and never felt like I needed it after. In the Whites, the down jacket was enough to keep us warm.

Montbell Frost Smoke Down Parka

This parka was great for being so light. It is very warm and always kept out the cold for us. The hood was great for keeping the ole' noggin warm and the jacket also had velcro straps to cinch off the wrists and cinch cords in the pockets to cinch off the waist. We never sent these jackets home and after it got warm we used them as pillows since they come with their own stuff sack. I only used it twice after the first few weeks up in southern Maine when it got quite cold. We also used these jackets to survive a Michigan winter before our hike and we are still using them as our main winter jackets. This is simply a wonderful piece of gear.  

Craft Performance Run Shorts

These shorts were basically my underwear during winter and my underwear and shorts when it warmed up. They have a mesh inner lining that take over the function of underwear so that I didn't have to bring underwear which, of course, helped save on weight, cost and created more room in the backpack. I never wished I had any underwear because of these fantastic shorts. They were stretchy so that my weight loss over the course of the five-month journey didn't make them fit any less. Though they were a bit tight on me at the beginning.    

The North Face Paramount Peak Convertible Pants

These pants had everything I was looking for. First, I wanted them to be convertible so I had an extra pair of shorts for the summer. The zippers are color-coded so you know which leg goes on what side. Secondly, I wanted a built-in belt so I could adjust the size as I lost weight. This was extremely helpful so I didn't have to have an additional belt. The built-in built works well and is very light. The unbuckle button is a little sensitive so sometimes the belt would accidentally come undone while hiking which isn't that bad of a problem. There are plenty of pockets. They were durable and lasted the entire hike with some noticeable wear on one of the knees. 

Glide Series Baselayer Bottoms

I have owned these for many years and they've always kept me warm. Again, I mostly used them in the first few weeks at shelters and while sleeping. I sent them home after the cold was completely gone.

Grand Sierra Micro-Fleece Convertible Mittens

Although I only used these a few times, I was very glad I had these when I did. A couple of other thruhikers lamented not having mittens like us because mittens are simply warmer than gloves no matter how fancy the gloves are. These mittens are convertible for when we needed to use our fingers like when setting up our tent and they were pretty cheap too. I bought a pair of expensive fancy gloves at an outfitter, but my wife talked me into returning them. I'm very glad she did. Not only did these work better for a fraction of the cost, but I only needed to use them the first few weeks of the journey so they weren't terribly important. These we sent back home in Virginia and never needed them again.  

Kelty Adult Rain Poncho

I was a bit nervous about using these since I've only used rain jackets and rain pants before, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well they worked. This poncho is not a cheap Walmart poncho. It is more expensive and more durable than those. Now, there are several pros and cons of using either a poncho or a rain jacket, but I think we made the right choice. The poncho could go over our backpack giving the backpack and our gear more protection from the rain. The ponchos were also way more breathable and we heard a lot of thruhikers complaining about being drenched in sweat in their rain suits. Of course, either way one should be prepared to get wet. Nothing can protect you perfectly. The only real problem we faced with our ponchos was when it was real windy in the White Mountains. On Mt. Moosilauke it was so bad that my poncho almost flew right off of me. However,my wife figured out that we could tie the corners together and the wind no longer blew them around. These ponchos packed down so small that we could put them in Nepsis' top pouch so we could quickly grab them when it began to rain.     

Foam Clogs

These are great for wearing around camp. The first thing I did after arriving at a shelter or setting up my tent was take off my shoes and socks (when it was warm) and put on my clogs. After hiking all day, my feet needed to breathe, especially those times when I had to hike in soggy shoes and socks for four days straight my feet got all white and wrinkly. Foam clogs work great because they are so cheap and so light. They also work well for river crossings up in Maine. I loved my pink foam clogs! I used them every day.  

The North Face Hedgehog III GTX XCR Hiking Shoes

I loved these shoes. They wore a little warm, but that was perfectly fine with me. Otherwise, they were as waterproof as can be expected and very durable. I started wearing them regularly for a couple of months before we even started thruhiking and they lasted all the way up to New York. With these shoes I never experienced any feet or ankle problems. They were also pretty light which is great because carrying extra weight on your feet can really slow you down. I highly recommend these shoes. 

Smartwool Hike Medium Crew Socks (x2) and Gander Mountain Medium Weight Merino Wool Hiking Socks

It was good to have three pairs of socks at the beginning because it was cold enough to wear socks around camp. One of these pairs was designated camp socks, but after it warmed up I no longer needed them so I sent them home. Two pairs worked well for me. I always made sure one of the pairs was dry so if it was going to be another rainy day I'd slip on the wet pair in the morning. When the sun was out I'd hang the wet socks on my backpack so they'd dry during the day. This system seemed to work well enough. I only ever had to swap out socks once when one pair was developing holes in Massachusetts. Thankfully, Nepsis' father and brother were visiting us around then so they just brought me another pair I had. Otherwise, all the outfitters will have hiking socks. We used medium weight wool socks the entire way and never felt they were too hot. They worked best to protect the feet from all the hiking.
Cooking Gear

Evernew Titanium Non-stick Pot w/ Handle 1.3 L

The best thing about titanium is it is so darn light. One drawback is that food can stick so make sure you stir your oatmeal! Its size was just about perfect for being able to cook for two people at one time. If, however, we wanted to cook a big meal it wasn't big enough. We'd have to do two wounds of cooking which was only a handful of times. Cleaning it was easy using water an leaves to scrub it down.   

Evernew Titanium Cup- 400 FD

We brought this cup for tea, but making tea wasn't quite worth the effort for us after a long day. We used it a few times, but ultimately sent it home as soon as we could. Others would make tea or coffee every day though, so it could be useful for those who can't part from their favorite hot beverage for a few months.

Bottle of Denatured Alcohol w/ Duct Tape

Denatured alcohol worked very well with our stove and we never had a problem finding any for resupply. All the outfitters carry it and sell it by the ounce and in a pinch one can find it in a hardware store. The stove we used didn't take a whole to cook a meal though and we really only had to refill our bottle once every few weeks. Our one mistake though, was putting it in a thin plastic water bottle to begin with. Somehow on one of our first few days out on the Trail it cracked and got all over our gear. Thankfully, we had just received trail magic earlier that day and had a small, empty Gatorade bottle with us we could transfer the alcohol into that. The Gatorade bottle, which much thicker plastic, lasted the rest of the trip, but we kept it in a side pocket from then on anyway just in case. The duct tape we used only a couple of times for unnecessary uses, but it was still good to have in case we needed it.     

MSR 4L Dromlite Bag

This water reservoir was completely unnecessary. We never needed to carry more than our two 1-liter bottles each. Water is plentiful on the Appalachian Trail. It might be necessary on the Pacific Crest Trail to carry so much water in some sections, but definitely not on the AT. 

Aluminum Foil Windscreen

This homemade wind screen worked well to keep out most wind and allow our stove to do its work effectively. It got pretty beat up over the course of the journey, but we never replaced it even though it would have been easy enough.

Binder Clips

These helped to attach the ends of the windscreen when wrapped around our pot and stove, and added some height to the windscreen allowing more oxygen to get to the flames. They weren't completely necessary so it was no loss when we misplaced one and then another over the course of our trek.

Fancy Feast DIY Alcohol Stove

This stove worked very well for our preferences. It was obviously extremely cheap and easy to make. You can't adjust how hot the flame burns so you can't cook anything too complicated, but we never needed to cook anything like that on the Trail. It did its job: it cooked ramen, rice and pasta sides, and oatmeal in a few minutes.  

Bic Mini Lighter

This worked as well as can be expected. It's the smallest/lightest lighter out there and it lasted the entire trip for us.

Snow Peak Titanium Spork

This also served its perfect as well as can be expected. It was light and functional.

MRE Plastic Spoon

This spoon lasted for quite awhile before breaking. We kept replacing it with other free plastic spoons from other fine eateries and grocery stores, but none lasted very long until the one, I think, from Kroger. That was a good spoon and lasted the rest of the trip.

Aquamira Chlorine Dioxide Water Treatment Drops

Honestly, we used this at most five times during our entire trip. We always picked out the best water spots we could find and drank the water without treating it. If the only water available was questionable, we treated it. We never got giardia. These drops are the lightest option, I believe, that actually kills all the little things that could be in water. Filters, which were a popular water treatment choice, don't get rid of everything, but give people a peace of mind anyway, I suppose. These drops could get a little expensive if you do plan on treating all your water and have to keep buying it.    

Gatorade Bottles (x4)

I never understood why anyone would bring their own reusable bottle on the Trail since it probably weighs more and costs more than Gatorade or Powerade bottles. We each carried two which was quite enough for us. After awhile the lips and necks of the bottles can get a little funky, but when they did we just bought ourselves a little treat of Gatorade or Powerade!  

50' Tan 550 Paracord

We brought this in case we ever wanted to hang a bear bag, but we didn't use it a single time. In Georgia and in the Smokies there are cables so you can hang your food and we sometimes utilized those, but we really didn't worry about bears. The only real threat we ever encountered was mice so we always hung our food up in the shelter when we slept in them.  

Plastic Bag

 This we used for our food. Again, I never understood why anyone would purchase a sack, but most do. We used plastic grocery bags to keep our food stored together and easily accessible and when we hing them we tied the handles in a not, protecting the food inside from any invaders and from rain. We never had anything get into our food during the night. And every time we were in town we could replace our bags for free!

Ziploc Bag

Ziplocs are the ultimate trash can on the Trail. We used so many, but never found ourselves buying any. We kept reusing ours until we found more in hiker boxes which was frequently. We also used Ziplocs to store other food we bought more easily like pretzels or cookies. Ziplocs were never so handy as on the Trail! 

Toiletries and Medical Aid Kit
Toiletry Bag

MRE Toilet Paper Pack

We just used these to begin with because we had them. Otherwise, we just took some from public establishments when we were in town. We kept it in a Ziploc bag so that we could store it in our side pockets so we could access it quickly and easily.

Shortened Colgate Toothbrush

Every ounce counts, right? Cutting off half the handle of the toothbrush didn't make it any more difficult to brush our teeth.

2 Fl. Oz. Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap

This was the perfect all-purpose soap we could use as toothpaste, shampoo, and body soap. This small body was plenty; we barely used any of it. One or two drops is enough for each brushing and we barely used it to wash ourselves. Most hostels have soap and shampoo so we only needed it at the few shelters that had showers and for bathing in ponds up in Maine.

Vaseline Lip Therapy

I don't ever get chapped lips, but Nepsis used this a lot. This kind is great because it doesn't have a flavorful aroma to attract mice. We heard a story of some thruhiker who used grape-flavored lip balm and woke up one night in a shelter to a mouse gnawing on her lips. True or not, it's a truly frightening image. Also, since it is Vaseline, it also helped a few times with some chafing issues. 

Up & Up Dental Floss

Great for oral hygiene and as thread for fixing any garment issues! Of course, don't be like us, and make sure you bring a needle with an eye the floss can actually fit through.

50 Multivitamin/Multimineral Dietary Supplements each

We're not sure how helpful these were, but I suppose they're better to take than not. Of course we ran out about halfway through our hike and never got any more.

Needle (x2)

Our needles were too small, but we ended up finding thread for the few times Nepsis repaired her old backpack before buying her new one.

Nepsis' Retainers (not pictured)

You gotta bring what you gotta bring! Since this item was fragile they got crushed a bit before realizing we could keep them safe by always carrying them in our pot. When we brought fruit with us we would also keep them in the pot to preserve them.

Medical Aid Kit

Up & Up Bandaids

We only took a few with us and Nepsis used them to help secure moleskin over hot spots on her toes to prevent blisters from forming.

Mucinex Fast-Max Tablets

Again, we only took a few, but we never used any of these. If we ever felt like we needed any more medicine we could just buy it in town. If we were to hike again I wouldn't bring any allergy medicine. 


Some thruhikers pop these like candy, but we wanted to be able to feel any pain so we could take measures to solve the problem, not just get rid of the pain. However, Nepsis did take these when she got the norovirus (as almost every thruhiker does) and was in so much pain she could not sleep. Otherwise, we didn't use these.

Equate Antidiarrheal

Nepsis didn't end up having diarrhea when she had the norovirus, but I sure did! Good times! Fortunately though, both Nepsis and I were both in trail towns when we contracted the infamous virus. However, I was anxious to get back on the Trail and the first two days after I got better, I still had this symptom. At one point, I had to dash into the woods as fast as I could as a family of dayhikers approached from a ways down the Trail. I wasn't completely unseen from the path, but I couldn't take another step and pulled down my shorts just in time for the liquid explosion. Thankfully, I finished before the family got too near, but after about five minutes I had to dash into the woods again. That's when I was very glad I had this antidiarrheal medicine and it worked like magic instantly. They were a real life saver. 

Razor Head

Nepsis' found the razor head to be quite enough for the few times she wanted to clean up a bit while in town.

Antiseptic Spray

We used this on all the little scrapes and cuts we endured in the harsh environment of the Trail.

Diva Cup

My wife already used this anyway, but if you don't it is especially useful on the Trail. I won't go into the details, but if you're a woman who doesn't want to have to deal with pads and tampons on the Trail look into this alternative method of care.

Dr. Scholl's Molefoam

Molefoam was WAY too thick for us to ever use and we got rid of it as quickly as possible. Mole skin was the way to go.


I never had to use this, but Nepsis did on occasion when hot spots appeared on her feet, especially after walking several days in wet socks and shoes because of consistent, heavy rain. Using moleskin as soon as any spot on her feet began to feel pain ensured that no blister ever formed. Luckily, Nepsis and I never got a single blister on the Trail. I wish you the same fortune.

Up & Up Wipes

We bought a small pack of wipes once every month when Nepsis needed to use and clean her diva cup. Wipes were also helpful to use when TP just wasn't cutting it. We also sometimes used wet wipes to take quick Trail showers.

Miscellaneous/Luxury Items

Pipe and Tobacco

I wished I used my luxury item more than I did, but once it was warm we often hiked from sun-up to sun-down and went to sleep very soon after setting up our sleeping gear, cooking, and eating. The few times I did use this it was difficult to light since I needed to use matches and it was hard to find a spot where the wind was blocked. I sent this home with our winter gear.

The A.T. Guide

This is simply the best! Despite trying to cut weight I did not divide up my guide into sections as many do. I wanted to keep it all together as a memento, but we used it so much the cover fell off anyway. The Ziploc it comes with is great too, but we did have to replace it at one point.

Phone Chargers

We brought a really short cord for our Smartphone which I do not recommend. We saved very little weight that way and on many, many occasions it would have been nice to both charge the phone and charge it at the same time.

Samsung Captivate Glide

This Smartphone worked great as a camera, taking awesome photos without the extra weight of another actual camera. At first I didn't use it too much for anything else, but to listen to music from time time. A little later though I listened to podcasts a lot on it while hiking. Also, it was great to have to access the Internet in towns. Most of the hostels have Wifi.   


This phone got reception most of the time and it was handy to have a phone that just made calls so we always had it charged it we needed it. Some places we couldn't get reception, but never at any real critical point.


I didn't really want to bring this and I never wore it. I kept it in my hip-belt pocket and probably looked at it way too much. However, it was useful to know the time to gauge how fast we could hike and how many hours we had until sundown. Also, it was good to be able to use the little alarm on days we wanted an early start.


We didn't read this as much as we should have, but worth the weight if you're a reader. You can find a lot of light Bible actually.

Pocket Notebook

It was good to have a notebook small enough to fit in one of hip-belt pockets. That way, we could jot down anything on a whim.


At the beginning I wrote in this a lot, but then did most of my writing on this blog when we were in town. The smaller notebook was sufficient for my on Trail writing so I sent this home. 

Victorinox Swiss Army Classic SD Knife

This is the smallest/lightest option that met all our needs. We used the knife for cutting cheese and summer sausage and opening packets of food. We used the scissors to cut moleskin and our fingernails. It also comes with tweezers in case we had a difficult time removing ticks, though we always were able to just use our fingers. Nepsis didn't really like the way the scissors cut nails so she purchased some nail-clippers while we were on the Trail.

Yurbuds Inspire Female In-Ear Sport Headphones

I usually use big headphones at home, especially since ear buds always seem to fall out of my ears. However, these sport ear buds have little rubber attachments that help keep them in your ears. They worked pretty good except the rubber attachments would often fall off when hey were stowed away so I'd often have to put them back on when I wanted to use them again.

Black Diamond Spot Headlamp

I bought this a long time ago for biking in the city at night and decided to save some money by bringing it. I'm sure there are lighter models, but I can't see how much lighter they could get. I forgot to put new batteries in before we left on our journey, but still they lasted almost all the way to the finish. Ultimately, we did have to replace them in New Hampshire. We didn't do too much night hiking, but when we did, we were surprised by how much natural light there was. There were a couple times, however, when it was very dark and the headlamp was very much needed to light the way. If we did any more night hiking it would have been nice to have headlamps for both of us since it is difficult to just hike behind someone with a headlamp even if they are turning around every few steps to help you out.

Microfiber Towel (x2)

We stored one of these extremely light towels in our pot to wipe it down after we cleaned it after every meal. The other towel we didn't use as much as I thought we would. If our tent was wet we'd let it air-dry when it wasn't raining. Most of the hostels had towels. We did use the second towel when we bathed in places without towels and on a couple of days when we hiked in the rain into the darkness and it was too cold to let ourselves air-dry.  

IDs/Debit Card w/ Waterproof Bag  

Again, I don't quite understand why anyone would spend money on a sack or a waterproof wallet when Ziploc bags are extremely cheap and waterproof. In the Marine Corps we would always use the little plastic beverage bag that comes with every MRE.

Pen (x3)

If you lose any, you can probably find another one in town. Once I was so desperate for a pen in Damascus that I asked Food City's manger if I could have one and she gave me a real fancy one. Also, don't ever steal the trail register pen!          


Friday, November 7, 2014

A Self-Assessment

When thruhiking the Appalachian Trail passed from the realm of a mere idea to actualization I read a book that recommended I write any reason I had for thruhiking the Trail so that when times got tough I could recall them for inspiration. Since several people have asked questions such as what I gleaned from the Trail, what I learned from thruhiking, and how I grew on the Trail I thought an assessment of the reasons I thruhiked might shed some light on the answers. Some of these reasons seem more like goals. Some of the reasons I wanted to thruhike ended up not even being an accurate thing that the Trail could provide. Some of them are personal and other thruhikers might have fulfilled some of these better than I did. This is more of a self-assessment than a critique of Trail culture. Here goes!

To spend a significant amount of time away from many of the conveniences of the modern day.

This was absolutely true. No television. No car. No bed. It felt great. However, many of these luxuries were afforded us when we spent some nights in hostels/motels/hotels. There wasn’t total depravation, but obviously we used these conveniences infrequently. When we were on the Trail, we were in the wild.  

To connect with God in an environment of seclusion.

The Appalachian Trail isn’t the most secluded environment. We could count on one hand the number of times we stayed at a shelter alone. However, for the most part, while hiking all day long we were alone. The few times we saw another hiker they would pass us quickly or we would pass them quickly. It is during this time I should have connected with God, and to some extent I did, especially by being in nature, but mostly I think I focused more on myself.

To conquer something physically, emotionally, and mentally challenging.

Everyone has their own opinion and their own experience to evaluate just how physically, emotionally, and mentally trying thruhiking the Trail was. Honestly, during most of the hike I didn’t think the Trail was very difficult. Perhaps I was just expecting it to be extremely difficult, and I’d set myself up for success by overestimating. After all, why do so many hikers fail to reach the end? However, just as it happened when I was at Marine Corps boot camp, the trials did occur and it was at that time I truly understood the great challenge I was overcoming by being out there and continuing every step until Mt. Katahdin was under my heel.

To become physically stronger.

I definitely became stronger on the Trail. My legs, especially, became admirably toned. I was in fit condition. However, now that I’ve been off the Trail two and a half months I’m probably right back to where I was physically before that first step on Springer Mountain. Hopefully, I’ll be more inspired to become strong again.

To be away from the irksome obligations of paying bills, keeping schedules, etc.

This one was absolutely true and probably one of the aspects of hiking the AT that everyone enjoyed the most. You feel free. Of course we did have to set up some automatic payments for bills, but while we were hiking on the Trail there were no forms to fill out (except for the ferry across the Kennebec River), nothing to show up to on a certain day or time, no planners, and no system or boss telling you what to do. Only on a thruhike have I truly felt like every given moment was mine to do with what I pleased, and I could change my mind from one second to the next.

To become close to God; to awaken my spiritual side.

This was perhaps my biggest failure on the Trail. I think I had a common misconception that if I changed my environment drastically, other aspects of my life that I wanted to change would magically occur. But that doesn’t happen. The fact is, if daily habits aren’t fostered in one’s most mundane and busy existence, it won’t become a daily habit anywhere else. You have to make it happen. No other person or thing is guaranteed to change you.

To have a time away from many of the temptations and distractions in my current life.

Yes, I did get away from many temptations and distractions that mark the well-connected lifestyle of a city-dweller with Internet. However, I found new distractions. I downloaded a lot of podcasts to listen to on my Smartphone to feed my intellectual side. Unfortunately, my spiritual side probably suffered because of it. I don’t think there is total freedom in this life and we will always be drawn to that which will enslave us.

To get away from the many apathy-creating and life-destroying ways of life that hallmark today's standard living.

Oh, yes, there is something about being in the fresh air, surrounded by things that don’t demand your attention or create so much noise! Just the quiet and the trees! There is something about not relying on machines. There is something about spending months living with only your head, your hands, and a few well-selected basic items slung on your back.

To have an adventure that so well exemplifies the reasons God graciously bestows me with life: to become surrounded by and a part of His glory, beauty, and power.

Yes, yes, yes! It was truly sublime and transcendent at times! As with all adventures, it is entirely life affirming. This is the kind of stuff that marks our lives, that we remember, that we hold on to as we remember when we most need to that we are here to seek union with God and he beckons us to share in all kinds of glory, beauty, and power forever, until the end of time.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Epilogue: Life After the Trail

After we reached the top of Mt. Katahdin we spent some time up there. Soon, other thruhikers climbed to the top and we snapped triumphant photos of each other with the northern terminus sign. We were the first to disembark and make the long journey back down the way we came up. We passed by a handful of other thruhikers and hundreds of dayhikers struggling up the mountain. When we finally reached the bottom we had to wait some time in the parking lot until a young, athletic man came bouncing down the Trail. We had passed him on our way back down. Nepsis backed him in a corner by asking if he was going to the town everyone had to pass through to get out of the wilderness, Millinocket. He said “yes” so she asked him if he could take us there. He hesitated and probably didn’t really want to, but felt he couldn’t just say no. He wasn’t much of a talker, which was fine as he drove us further and further from the wilderness and into civilization. In the small town we found dinner and a hotel to stay in as we waited for my parents to arrive that evening. The next morning they whisked us off into a whirlwind of activities as we took a two-day journey to a wedding in Maryland and back to Michigan.
We didn’t feel the effects of not being on the Trail at first. It felt real nice to eat food, drink beer, watch TV, and not spend all day walking with a backpack full of supplies. However, the sedentary and languorous life is only appealing so long. We spent a few weeks doing nothing while we lived with Nepsis’ parents before beginning an online course to get a Teaching English as a Second Language certification and I went to work with Nepsis’ brother sometimes, painting and landscaping. Less than a month after finishing the Trail we made a hiking trip to the uninhabited wilderness island of North Manitou. It was great to be in the fresh air again and not have to deal with the annoying inconveniences caused by a life dependent on things like a vehicle and the Internet. I’m afraid we have become out of shape again. It is a lot more difficult to go out to walk or run when there isn’t an actual destination we are trying to reach. Sometimes I get a strong longing for the simple life the Trail offered. However, I do know there are many adventures ahead of us in life and it is exciting to think of the new life that is soon ahead of us, whether it is teaching English in Asia or beginning grad school. I think the transition back home would be a lot more difficult for us if we were thrust back into a life we had before, in the same city at the same job, as I suspect most thruhikers have to face.
I will write a few more blog posts relating to the Appalachian Trail, such as one about whether or not the reasons I wanted to hike were fulfilled, one analyzing some of the data about how fast we hiked the Trail, and a final gear review. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Wilderness of the Mind and the Finale

Day 152

We woke up tired from yesterday’s long hike, but knew we had to push ourselves because we wanted to finish in a few days so we could make it to a friend’s wedding down in Maryland. There were several young section hikers who were staying at the shelter and some were thinking about quitting the one hundred mile section already after one day of hiking, but most got going quite early. The first couple of miles weren’t too bad, and we caught the section hikers at the ford of Long Stream Pond. They were impressed that we plunged right in and quickly crossed when they had made it into a big ordeal and taken a long time. Our shoes, socks, and feet had now been wet for several days. After the ford we passed the one hundred miles left mark and had to climb up to Barren Ledges and Barren Mountain. We hiked slowly and it began to rain, making the rocks very slippery, which slowed us down even more. It was pretty late in the day by the time we reached Fourth Mountain and across to Mt. Three and a Half, and Third Mountain. My body felt weak and I was devastated that we were going super slow. We needed to move through the wilderness fast! We climbed up Columbus Mountain and I was so distraught and weary that I just wanted to stop at the Chairback Gap Lean-to just down in a saddle between Columbus and Chairback Mountain. I picked up my pace, envisioning the horrible day being finally done. I just wanted to sleep, but when we reached the lean-to it was full of what looked like mostly section hikers. We hiked on, each step feeling like a chore and I started to complain bitterly. I told Nepsis I just wanted to be done and didn’t care if we finished the Trail early. I slipped and fell again. Nepsis sped up to look for a place where we could pitch our tent. In a moment of desperation, as often has happened to me, I began to think about how bad my life was. It wasn’t really the present situation that made me angry. I felt angry with God, and raged in my heart about how I had been given no special talents or abilities. Neither had I been given a strong work ethic or deliberating care to have developed any special skills. On top of that, I felt angry about not at least being an extravert, which our culture seems to bestow with the greatest of honors. I felt as if I had been dealt a bad hand in life and had nothing of value to offer. As I climbed Chairback Mountain I felt the lowest I have in a long time and when I reached the top, as the sky reached out before me and mountains rose in the darkness I began to cry. It was so beautiful and the course of my life brought me here to witness this while everyone else was not here. I stood there for a while looking at the expanse before me before moving on a couple hundred feet across the mountain where Nepsis was pitching our tent. I was glad to be done hiking for the day. She cooked our dinner and we stripped our wet shoes and socks off. It was windy up there as we watched dark clouds tumble across the sky and clear out. I really hoped the rain would finally be finished. We ate dinner and a thruhiker named Wingin It passed by telling us it was a bad place to set up camp. He was trying to finish the day before us so we knew it was possible we could make it on our schedule if we really pushed ourselves despite our lackluster performance of the day. As we laid in our tent we began to understand Wingin It’s words as the wind throttled our tent, making it extremely noisy inside.

Miles hiked today: 16.1 Total AT miles completed: 2097.3 Total AT miles left to hike: 88

Day 153

We barely slept with the wind being so loud banging against our tent all night long. As soon as it started brightening up in the morning we began to hear the pitter-patter of rain on our tent. This instantly turned my mood sour again and I didn’t want to start hiking even though we only had four days to hike eighty-eight miles if we wanted to finish on time. It took a long time, but finally Nepsis convinced me to get going. I was waiting for it to stop raining, but it just wouldn’t. We hiked the several miles down the mountain in the cold and wet. It stopped raining, but it was still overcast. We reached the West Branch Pleasant River, which we had to ford and Nepsis suggested changing into our crocs so our feet could dry as fast as possible if the sun happened to show up. I kept calling it evil yellow face as Gollum had in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The water was very cold, but very shallow and even though our shoes and socks were still entirely wet, they weren’t as soaked as they would be if we walked across the branch wearing them. After the ford we hiked on flat ground a bit before the Trail began to steadily incline back up to the mountains. We climbed up Gulf Hagas Mountain, West Peak, and Hay Mountain as the clouds finally started clearing and the glorious sun finally made an appearance. A section hiker on top of one of the mountains informed us that he had just checked the weather on his cell phone and the clouds were supposed to clear out by evening and it was supposed to be perfectly sunny the next few days. We reached White Cap Mountain which was our last 3000-footer before Katahdin. On the north side of the mountain we could see our goal, our final destination for our every step these past five months: Mount Katahdin. Its top was in the clouds, but we could see it, nevertheless. We now felt close. We hiked down the mountain, enjoying the heat of the sun. We hiked past East Branch Lean-to in the evening, trying to get as far as possible. We hiked on to Mountain View Pond so we could set up camp near a water source. When we got there it seemed everybody had that idea because every flat spot in sight had a tent already claiming it. We hiked a bit further into the woods and found a relatively flat place to set up and cook just before dark. We went to sleep happy, knowing the rain was finally gone and the Trail was very flat up to Katahdin.

Miles hiked today: 22.4 Total AT miles completed: 2119.7 Total AT miles left to hike: 65.6

Day 154              

We woke up early and got to hiking fast. In less than two miles we hiked up the extremely small Little Boardman Mountain and back down. We hiked very fast on a flat stretch with no rocks or roots to maneuver over. We hiked faster than we ever had before and covered many miles in just a few hours. We passed by many wonderful ponds in wonderful weather, but didn’t linger so we cover as much distance as possible. We hiked so far so fast that by the time evening approached we were worn out, but I tried to push us a little further. It was tough to hike up the very small, but steep Nesuntabunt Mountain, but on the other side of it we were rewarded with a view of Mount Katahdin unhidden by clouds. We could only make it a couple miles further before setting up camp almost an hour before dark. At 32 miles, this was our longest mileage day of the whole trip! We tried to sleep early since tomorrow would take us to the base of Katahdin, but the excitement kept us awake for quite awhile.

Miles hiked today: 32 Total AT miles completed: 2151.7 Total AT miles left to hike: 33.6

Day 155

We woke up and began our last full day of hiking. The terrain was flat, but we were not as quick as we were yesterday. We felt the pain of the distance traveled yesterday with every step. Still, since the Trail was flat we moved steadily toward Katahdin, knocking out the miles. We passed by Peaches who said she was also finishing tomorrow, but taking a non-AT route up Mt Katahdin. By late afternoon we exited the 100-mile wilderness and crossed Abol Bridge. From here we got a great view of Mount Katahdin across the water. Just after the bridge we came to Abol Bridge Campstore with The Northern Restaurant inside. We stuffed ourselves with food and felt sick afterward. We sat around for quite a long time and bought a few resupply items from the small store. We were only fifteen and a half miles from the end of the Trail and ten miles away from the base of Mt Katahdin where there was a lean-to. We figured we would stealth camp wherever we could make it between here and the lean-to. We didn’t get to hiking until early evening and in two miles we reached an information kiosk marking the boundary of Baxter State Park. We found out it was illegal to stealth camp and that all thruhikers were required to stay at the lean-to so we took off fast. The Trail was very wide and mostly void of rocks and roots so it was easy-going. We hiked along the beautiful Nesowadnehunk Stream most of the way. We pounded out those ten miles in less than three hours. The Trail led us to Katahdin Stream Campground where there were many campers and a ranger saw us and beckoned us to his vehicle. His name was Ranger Joe and he gave us permits, explained how to get to the Birches Lean-tos and that we could leave our backpacks at the ranger station the next morning and borrow a daypack from them for the climb of Mt Katahdin. We walked over to the lean-tos, tucked neatly away from the other campers and found Silent Bob and a couple other thruhikers we’d never met getting ready to sleep. We ate a quick meal and settled into one of the lean-tos by ourselves for our last night on the Trail.

Miles hiked today: 28.4 Total AT miles completed: 2180.1 Total AT miles left to hike: 5.2

Day 156

We woke up early, left our packs at the ranger station, put our food and water in our daypacks and headed down the Trail. We passed a Sign In/Sign Out clipboard for climbing Katahdin on a post and learned two camping couples and an older thruhiker had already started out. After hiking a bit further we passed the Katahdin Stream Falls and that’s where the Trail started to get steep. It was pretty easy going for a bit, but then it got a little steeper and we had to scramble up a few medium rocks. We passed one of the couples here. A couple miles in, we were out of the trees and we had to climb up giant rock slabs. We had to use our hands a lot to do climbing and there were some strategically placed metal bars to help us have a hold to swing ourselves up. We passed another couple here. At the top of the rock slabs was a sort of giant rock-jumble-staircase we had to climb. We ate a snack while resting, then started up passing the older thruhiker early on. The climb was slow, but fun. It wasn’t cold, but the clouds were moving in and out. They mostly passed around us, allowing for spectacular views. At the top we made it to The Gateway to the Tableland. This was a long stretch of flatness, guided by cairns, a shelf of rocks and small shrubs. We hiked across this, passing Thoreau Spring, to the small stretch up to Baxter Peak! The clouds moved in just as we made our final steps to the northern terminus sign. We touched the sign. We were there. We were done. After five months and two days our journey was done.

Miles hiked today: 5.2 Total AT miles completed: 2185.3 Total AT miles left to hike: 0

Friday, October 3, 2014

Crossing Rivers One Way and Another

Day 147

We awoke from our tilted tent, packed up, ate breakfast and continued our journey. It was only a few feet up to the top of Lone Mountain where it was flat, but we didn’t know how close we were the night before. We hiked across the flatness a short while and passed the mark where we only had two hundred miles left to hike. This close to Katahdin, we don’t pay attention to how many miles we’ve gone, but to how many wiles we had left. We hiked up the short, but steep shoulder of Spaulding Mountain, quickly down a bit, across a ridge a couple of miles, a sharp descent and up the mid-sized South Crocker Mountain. From there we hiked to the North Crocker Mountain and the long gradual descent that took us well into the afternoon. At the bottom we emerged into a parking lot on ME 27 where we found a thruhiker talking with a man leaning against his pick-up truck. The man took us three thruhikers into the town of Stratton and we passed Silent Bob hitchhiking his way back out of town. We found cheap accommodations at the Stratton Motel. It was a very small town and we walked to a gas station where they also made pizza and got ourselves a pie. We resupplied at the grocery store across from the hotel and spent the rest of our time resting back at the hotel before going to sleep.

Miles hiked today: 15.7 Total AT miles completed: 1997.2 Total AT miles left to hike: 188.2   

Day 148

We woke up at not exactly the earliest hour and got a shuttle back to the Trail. Most of the other thruhikers decided to take a zero day because it was forecasted to rain soon and for the rest of the day. The sky was filled with dark clouds. We hiked high up into the mountains, into the misty coldness that was the Bigelow Mountains. These were the last mountains to be higher than four thousand feet until the final mountain, Mt Katahdin. It was extremely windy so high up as we made our way precariously from South Horn to Bigelow Mountain’s west peak to Avery Peak. We hiked down a thousand feet and several miles across the relatively flat Little Bigelow Mountain. We then hiked down the mountain halfway to Little Bigelow Lean-to where we stopped to rest. It finally started to rain and we pushed on down the mountain and several miles across relatively flat terrain. It rained harder and harder as we hiked along near several ponds. The ground became very wet and muddy and the sun was beginning to drop so we hiked faster. It got darker and darker and we were still hiking through the giant puddles when it got extremely dark. I tried putting on my headlamp, but the light lit up all the rain droplets coming down and made it even harder to see. Nepsis took the lead with the headlamp and we stumbled down the Trail for what seemed far too long. We thought we must have missed the lean-to we were headed for and tried breaking out the guidebook in the pouring rain. It didn’t help us out any and we were tired of the hiking, hungry, and tired of the rain, the puddles, and the darkness. Finally, we found the side trail to West Carry Pond Lean-to. There were a few tents set up and a couple hikers sleeping in the lean-to, so we got our dinner cooking on the side of the lean-to under the side-awning and quickly set up our sleeping stuff in the lean-to. We got ourselves in dry clothes and went to sleep without waking too many people up.

Miles hiked today: 23 Total AT miles completed: 2020.1 Total AT miles left to hike: 165.2

Day 149     

In the morning we hiked quickly on pretty flat ground. It was easy going for other ten miles until we reached the Kennebec River by mid-afternoon. This is the one river on the Trail with no bridge that thruhikers are not supposed to ford. A dam upstream sometimes will unexpectedly allow more water flow. Instead there is a man employed who ferries people across during certain hours every day of the week. When we got to the riverbank we waved to a person on the other side and he got in a canoe and paddled across. His name was Hillbilly Dave and he had us sign some waivers and put on life jackets. He and I then paddled back. The canoe even had a white blaze on the bottom of it and considered part of the official Trail. Hillbilly Dave was friendly and told us the two places to stay at in town would come pick us up for free if we called from the post office. We thanked him and walked to the post office, which was a bit further than expected. We found a hiker box outside and was rummaging through that when a shuttle pulled up and offered us a ride to the Sterling Inn, though it was from the other place to stay. They shuttle hikers back and forth for each other all the time. The Sterling Inn was a very nice bed and breakfast. Our room was small and quaint, but there was a spacious common room with a big television and a large DVD collection. They also had a little room full of hiker resupply goods so we stocked up with what we need there. After resting a bit White Rabbit arrived and we agreed to go to the other lodging option for dinner because it was also the Kennebec River Pub & Brewery. We took showers and then the owner of the Sterling Inn drove us to Northern Outdoors, which was a lodge, a restaurant, a brewery, and where one could learn how to ski. There were several other thruhikers already staying there, hanging out in the large main room with high ceilings. Everything was made of wood, giving it that nice lodge feel. There was a large sitting area sectioned off by a short wall, a bar, couches and small tables near the bar, a pool table, a few arcade games, and a fireplace. Along with White Rabbit, we sat down at one of the tables in the general area in front of the bar and ordered beers and dinners. White Rabbit told us about how he was a television editor from Los Angeles who had worked on The Hills and Cupcake Wars. After dinner the eight or so of us thruhikers went out onto a deck where there was a hot tub and soaked our legs and talked. We stayed unti late in the evening when the owner of the Sterling Inn came back to pick us three up. Back at the inn, Nepsis and I watched a little bit of TV before crawling into bed.

Miles hiked today: 14 Total AT miles completed: 2034.1 Total AT miles left to hike: 151.2

Day 150

We woke up just before seven o’clock and went downstairs for a continental breakfast with some amazing blueberry muffins. At half past seven o’clock the owner shuttled White Rabbit, two middle-aged female thruhikers, and us back to the Trail. We took off up a slight incline. We wanted to go pretty far today and tried to hike quickly. Somehow we just weren’t feeling it and after a couple of miles White Rabbit passed us. After several miles we hiked up the 2000-footer Pleasant Pond Mountain. We hiked down the mountain and ate lunch near Moxie Pond. After lunch we had to ford a brook flowing into the pond. The water came up just below our waists and was rushing harder than it looked. I slipped a couple of times and got wetter than I should have. Within minutes we were completely dry except for our shoes and socks. Most of our clothes dried really very quickly. After a few miles we climbed another 2000-footer, Moxie Bald Mountain. It was evening by the time we arrived at a shelter at the bottom of the mountain. There a southbounder told scary stories about how bad the next couple of river fords were. Two river fords stood between us and the next shelter, where we hoped to spend the night. It was already pretty late so we rushed off on very flat terrain. After a couple miles we had to ford Bald Mountain Stream which wasn’t too deep, but the southbounder said the next one was very bad. Since it was still several miles away and we didn’t want to do a ford in the dark we decided to set up camp before it got dark. So as we hiked next to the stream we kept an eye out for a flat spot, set up our tent, cooked dinner, and went to sleep.

Miles hiked today: 20.8 Total AT miles completed: 2054.9 Total AT miles left to hike: 130.4

Day 151

We woke up early and hiked quickly on flat ground a couple of miles to our ford of the West Branch of the Piscataquis River. It was cold, but the water only came up to our knees. It must have been much higher the day before with the recent heavy raining. We continued on the easy terrain until we reached the East Branch of the Piscataquis River. That ford came up to our waists, but there was a rope strung across we could hold on to help us across. We continued on very quickly and at one point I slipped, but my trekking pole did not and my face landed on it hard, bruising my lip. We weren’t going to let that keep us down and pressed on. As we were hiking I heard Nepsis scream behind me. A bee had stung her on her upper left leg. It hurt a lot and left a large red-hot welt that would last for weeks. As we hiked, we passed J5, an older thruhiker we had met a long time ago who was hiking with his wife, Dragon Lady. Dragon Lady had hurt her foot, but was following her husband the entire way with her little dog in their jeep. She supported him by allowing him to slackpack most of the Trail. The last time we had seen them was in New York right before we took a long break in New York City and he was surprised we caught up to him since he mostly got to slackpack. After a little bit we came out onto ME 15 and found Dragon Lady in her jeep in the parking lot across the road. She offered to take us to town and soon J5 appeared from the woods. We squeezed into the jeep and we drove the three and a half miles to Monson, our last Trail town. We got some of our last resupply from a gas station and some from a bakery that had a stash of hiker supplies available for purchase in a small side room. Right out of town the one hundred mile wilderness began so we had to bring enough food to last us that long. We decided we could hike that one hundred miles in four days. After stuffing our packs with all that food, we ate lunch at the bakery. White Rabbit came in at one point and told us he was staying the night in town. We were happy that it was still afternoon and we were already done with all our errands. We could knock out several miles with the remainder of our day. Within a couple minutes of stepping out on the road to hitchhike back a man in a pick-up stopped to pick us up. He lived in Monson, but was kind and went out of his way to take us all the way back to the Trail. Back in the woods we hiked a few minutes before reaching a sign that read: CAUTION/ THERE ARE NO PLACES TO OBTAIN SUPPLIES OR GET HELP UNTIL ABOL BRIDGE 100 MILES NORTH. DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS SECTION UNLESS YOU HAVE A MINIMUM OF 10 DAYS SUPPLIES AND ARE FULLY EQUIPPED. THIS IS THE LONGEST WILDERNESS SECTION OF THE A.T. AND ITS DIFFICULTY SHOULD NOT BE UNDERESTIMATED. We laughed at the sign and continued on. That would be an incredibly slow pace for us at this point, but at the beginning of our trek we may have had to of heeded it. After three more miles, passing a couple of ponds along the way we came to Leeman Brook Lean-to. Inside we fond something that surprised us greatly. Three skinny thruhikers were sprawled out by the names of Mayonnaise Pockets, Speedy G, and Impact. We had not seen the two since Erwin, Tennessee and according to the logbooks, we thought they were way ahead of us this entire. Well, they were until just recently when Mayonnaise Pockets fell ill. They were taking it very slow and joked about how badly he was slowing them down. Feeling good about it being early evening and passing by three strong hikers that had been way faster than us this entire time, we hiked on as quick as we can. The terrain became a little more jagged and after a few miles we forded Little Wilson Stream. We hiked a couple more miles as darkness fell. We really wanted to make it to the next lean-to. We hiked on as darkness completely enveloped us. We took out the headlamp and made it to Big Wilson Stream, which we had to ford. The current looked strong, but there was a rope and we had to do it. We attached our packs to the rope and descended into the cold water. We pushed our packs ahead of us and reached the other side safely. We unhooked our packs from the rope and set them on a large rock as our nostrils filled with a strange smell. As we strapped them back on Nepsis noticed a strange bone as I noticed the entire carcass of a deer on the rock. I had set our packs halfway on it. We scampered away and up a small hill less than a mile to Wilson Valley Lean-to where there was some tents set up, but still room in the lean-to. Of course, again, everyone was asleep and we had to quietly and quickly cook and set up our sleeping system before we shut our eyes for wonderful sleep.

Miles hiked today: 26.3 Total AT miles completed: 2081.2 Total AT miles left to hike: 104.1