You can do everything with your poles on.
Trekking poles are both incredibly handy and an incredible nuisance. They certainly help the actual process of hiking, but as soon as you stop their utility often plummets to negative levels, tripping people, falling over, and increasing the levels of general chaos in your immediate area. In short, as soon as you stop hiking, your poles are somewhat of a liability. One way to help alleviate this problem, as well as increase your "doing stuff" efficiency is to keep your poles attached to your hands. Which means you have to learn to do everything with them on. Its kind of like puberty all over again when the sudden growth spurts caused your lanky arms and legs to get in the way of everything. With enough practice, though, we all managed to awkwardly gangle our way through the junior high halls. Though still awkward, going about your activities with poles on is more bearable than dropping them down the mountain you just climbed...
Every day you will literally stumble. And trip. And fall.
And it's almost by some mysterious power that you can't avoid it. I've been doing this for 1,300 miles, so you'd think I'd be used to my pack, the trail, walking, etc. But for reason I do not understand, I still trip over rocks, roots, trekking poles, and my own feet. What makes tripping more bizarre is how immediately infuriating and demoralizing it is. Even if you see the obstacle in your path, make a mental note, and prepare yourself to avoid it at all costs, each root, rock, shrubbery, and squirrel (not really, but I won't be surprised when it happens) jumps underneath your feet. If you're lucky, you'll just misstep. If not, you'll catapult onto your face and and garage sale your gear.Personally, the worst moments are in the middle of an uphill climb when you've hit your rhythm and are feeling strong. A sudden stumble destroys your groove with such finality that recovering requires a disproportionate amount of energy now that you're winded and angry.
You will smell terrible, and there's nothing you can do about it.
Showers are rare, and lakes, though refreshing, don't clean well. It's not that you aren't aware of your stench, but you become accustomed to it because any attempts to stave off the oderous cloud are futile. The nastiness eventually permeated everything you own, including your sleeping clothes that are your last bastion of cleanliness.
Perhaps the worst part about the smell is the moment you reenter civilization. Though your BO no longer bothers you, it is obviously and incredibly offensive to everyone within a 50ft radius. And again, there's nothing you can do about it except hang your head in shame knowing that you are the reason for the scathing glares and plugged noses. We have a stick of deodorant in each of our bounce boxes, but it is inaccessible to us until we get to the post office, which means there's still plenty of contact with other humans that is punctuated by our inhumane quality. Apologies to all those wonderful people who have given us rides into town while we have hitchhiked in our sorry state.
Peeing on yourself is unavoidable.
As gross as it is, it is the truth. I can't tell you how many times I've peed on my shoes, my pants, my hands, my legs, and my trekking poles (see above). I think there are a lot of factors that contribute to this issue. For one, you drink a lot of water to stay hydrated; the inevitable outcome is that you have to pee a lot. But there's no sense to make an event of it...you have miles to tackle. So you stop wherever and whenever you want on the trail and go about your business. Additionally, unbuckling your hip belt is definitely an extra, avoidable step, as is setting down your trekking poles. Essentially, anything that slows you down or is an extra step can be easily bypassed.
The other considerations are the external, uncontrollable factors. Wind, slopes, rock angles, and insects all throw chaos into the mix. The result is unpredictability that often ends up where you don't want it. Oh well...good thing it's sterile and rain/a shower/laundry will fix it.
Blogging is hard.
After a long day of racking up the miles, most often the only thing you want to do is sit down next to a fire, eat dinner, then crawl into your sleeping bag and pass out. For someone like myself, for whom composing written words has always been a tedious struggle, the idea and act of producing a document containing highlights from our adventure seems incredibly taxing and demoralizing. I wish I were a faster, more efficient writer, but I've realized that the trail is not really the place to develop those skills. Rather, it should be a place to highlight one's already trained proficiency.
Another problem with blogging is simply my mobile phone. Typing on it is terrible. Period. Sometimes, after attempting to write lengthy paragraphs on my phone, I simply give up because my frustration mounts at my inability to accurately get the words on the screen. Maybe someday someone will figure out a truly easy way to compose on a mobile device (in a lightweight, portable fashion), but today is not that day.
That being said, please be patient with our writing. We're working on it, but it will take a while to get it into a publishable state.
Calves of steel.
I've always been thin, with legs that could easily be grafted onto a chicken's body without any real noticeable change. And though my thighs and butt are looking good, the true change is in my calves. though they are not particularly large, they are solid. Chris and Nick have both pre-grown their calves after their years of mountaineering, but for me, these new drumsticks are a special treat. My calves are toned, tan, and ready for any climb the trail can throw at them. Unfortunately it just took 1,000 miles to sculpt them into the hill-crushing motors they are.
It is actually unbelievable how steady our legs have become. We can walk for 25 miles a day at a brisk 2.5-3 mph pace and, though sore, they are ready to keep going, day after day after day. I never actually believed I would acclimate to this kind of strenuous exercise, but I guess the human body has a way of surprising us with what it is capable of adapting to.
Minimalist is the only real option.
As the miles have accumulated, we've met a lot of people, many who do not have much hiking experience. The individuals who seem best prepared for the trail, are moving the fastest, and seem most likely to succeed are those with the smaller packs. Leave the extra stuff home. You won't use it and it weighs too much. One set of hiking clothes. One set of sleeping clothes. As few layers as necessary to keep you warm and dry when its terrible outside.
My pack is roughly 60L, and that's just because I couldn't find a 50L pack when I had to buy a new one in Tahoe. Fortunatley, my 60L can be collapsed, and the pack is lightweight, so the extra space isn't an issue. But I don't need that space. In fact, having the space invites me to fill it with more stuff, which is a temptation I am avoiding. Yes I have my luxury items, such as my fishing rod and a kindle, but everything else is a bare essential to what I would consider a safe a smart hike. Though each hiker will have a different gauge of what that level is, the lighter you go, the easier you'll be. So if you're reading this and you have some backpacking experience, but want to diver further into exploring the mountains for a few days at a time, go back through your gear and start weeding out all the pieces that are, at best, a "just in case" item. Be smart about it, but I guarantee it will make your experience better.
Which brings me to my next point...
Water is heavy.
In fact, it is probably one of the densest things we will carry. Our packs might be light weight, but when we have had to travel 20 miles through the desert heat before your next water source, you load up. And loading up is not fun. On a really hot day, you should drink 1L every 3-4 miles, which means a 20 mile waterless stretch is the equivalent of 12lbs of water. 12lbs is almost my base pack weight, so doubling it just to stay hydrated sucks.
Fortunately, as with food, your pack gets lighter as you consume the water. Which is why I live by the mantra "if i eat it, i don't have to carry it."
Being indoors during bad weather is a simple, wonderful luxury.
Until thru hiking, I don't think I ever really appreciated how convenient it is to step indoors during rain, wind, lightning, hail, snow, etc. Buildings are truly extraordinary in the way they mitigate most of what nature throws our direction, particularly when that being thrown is cold and wet. When your only form of shelter is your tent, and you are 3 days from the nearest structure, your options to shield yourself from the elements are really limited. Yes, in an emergency situation you would set your tent up during the middle of the day to escape a particularly nasty, life-threatening storm (which we haven't had to do yet...don't worry), but the vast majority of cases require that you just keep walking until you get to your evening campsite. Then and only then are you able to escape the blasting winds and harsh rains in the marginally better peace of your thin nylon cocoon.
Also, AC. Enough said.
Avoid emotional attachments to your gear.
You will lose it. Or break it. Or throw it away. Or give up on it. As I once heard, its a tool, not a jewel. Maintain it, but don't expect it to last the entire trip, because the trail will do everything in its power to rip, tear, bend, pop, break, and crush your equipment. And each piece of your gear is prone to this outcome--nothing is safe. Even backpacks, which are arguably in the top 3 of important items, may fail, which is particularly devastating (Nick and I can both attest to this).
So, even though some of your gear was bright and shiny when you got it, don't get attached. Don't let the disappointment break your spirit along with your broken trekking pole. Its just not worth it when you have thousands of miles to go, especially when a few dollars can often fix the problem for the next few hundred miles.
The mountains are the best place to wake up.
I can't really put this one into words, but it is the greatest truth I've stumbled upon so far. Every morning I wake up around the time the sun beams start to spill over the peaks in the distance, and every morning it is a pleasure. For some reason beyond me, the mountains are a magical place and I count myself incredibly fortunate that I have the opportunity to spend these 5 months deep in the heart of the wild places still left. With each new daybreak, these wild places remind me of why I have a need to be outside, of why the mountains are close to my heart. I love them, and know my love will continue to grow with time.
If you haven't yet this summer, go spend the night in the mountains. When you wake up, you'll know deep down exactly what I mean.