The morning after passing the 100-mile point in my hike, while sipping my instant coffee, I started scribbling down a list of the things I’ve learned thus far. Now that I have a chance to hop online and update my blog, I decided to share that list with you!
1. Wear sunscreen.
On the second day of my hike I hastily rubbed some sunscreen on myself while filtering water. It was one of those sticks of sunscreen, so I just scribbled it over my arms, shoulders, and face.
I definitely missed a few spots.
My forehead, my scalp, my nose, and especially my shoulders got burned. I can see exactly where my sunscreen scribbles missed. I will now be carrying the extra weight of lotion-style sunscreen and applying it religiously every morning.
Update: Even though I’ve been diligently applying sunscreen, I have the worst hiker tan/burn. My nose continues to burn no matter how frequently I put sunscreen on it. I also have tan lines from my trekking poles and backpack straps.
2. Men are so lucky they can pee standing up.
I apologize if me talking about bodily functions makes you uncomfortable, but I need to include this one. Bathroom breaks for women during a hike are the worst.
You have to stop, remove your beastly pack, trudge out into the woods to find a decent spot, remove clothes, squat (not fun for sore legs), pray a tick doesn’t find your exposed bottom, do your business, and return to the trail after strapping the beast back onto your back. It’s even worse in the rain.
Obviously it’s important to stay hydrated while hiking so much, but drinking bottle after bottle of water throughout the day means frequent pee breaks.
You also have to carry out any used toilet paper, which is gross. An alternative method is using a bandanna as a “pee rag,” which you use repeatedly and wash once a week. Also gross.
I’ve run into several men peeing right on the trail, backpack still strapped to their back. It takes them maybe 30 seconds, and then they are on their way again. They can even pee around other hikers without really exposing themselves or offending anyone. They are lucky they don’t have to deal with this nasty pee rag business.
I guess I should not have rolled my eyes when I first heard Freud’s theory of penis-envy, because I’ve now developed a bad case of it.
3. Trekking poles are a necessity.
I remember reading that some hikers forgo the trekking poles. After a week of hiking, I have no idea how that is possible. The descents are killing my knees as it is. Around the third day I felt like I had aged 40 years. I cannot imagine the beating my knees would be taking if I didn’t have my poles. They’ve also prevented numerous falls and twisted ankles. The trail is a lot rockier than I imagined and there are many slippery streams to cross, so if you decide to hike the A.T., bring poles!
4. Don’t underestimate those 1,000-foot climbs.
When I was in the planning stage, I looked at the elevation profiles in the guidebook to help me set mileage goals. Some days have impressive climbs of over 3,000 feet, making the climbs of 500 to 1,000 feet look like nothing.
They are not nothing. I’ve learned that 1,000 feet is way more than I thought it was. Even the 400-foot climbs can kick your butt. It’s easy to look at a bumpy line on paper with numbers by it and say it doesn’t look so bad. Hiking that line is a completely different experience.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned, by far, is this: Climbing mountains is hard work.
Hiking the A.T. might be the toughest thing I’ve ever done. Waking up and hiking all day, especially with blisters or when it’s raining, has been testing my resolve. However, the fact that I might fail is what makes this challenge interesting!