Getting into Hot Water

Getting into Hot Water

In addition to articles about the Appalachian Trail occasionally we will post about other travels we have had. This piece of travel writing is an excerpt from my memoir Costa Rica Curious and takes place on our due diligence trip before we moved to Costa Rica. 

Grecia may have gone to bed late the previous night, but that did not keep it from waking up early—and cranky. No, wait, that was me. I was the cranky one. The combination of unusual noise, an unfamiliar place, and a thin mattress caused a fitful sleep.

Our room at the bed and breakfast shared a wall with the outside, the street just 20 feet from our bed. The road swarmed with cars and trucks as the sun came up. Street noise from automobiles and unmuffled motos reached into our room along with birds squawking in the trees, the grinding of metal garage doors going up as shop keepers prepared for the day—and was that a jackhammer?

It was 5:30 in the morning.

Sitting between 7-10 degrees above the equator, Costa Rica belongs to the Central Time Zone, but without the need to ever spring forward. In addition to creating the need for sunblock, the orientation to the equator means the country has a consistent and corresponding sunrise and sunset. The sun rises around 5:30 a.m. each morning throughout the year and sets almost exactly 12 hours later.

I was up with the sun and sound, so I turn to Jen and asked, “Are you up?”

“I am now.”

It was going to be a great day.

My mind was already working on solving the problems this second day in Costa Rica would present. The first obvious problem? Getting into the shared bathroom to take a shower and take care of business without incident or awkwardness. Jen had drifted back to sleep so I let her know I was going to take a shower.

I tinkered with the idea of not putting on a shirt. I mean, it was early in the morning. Who else was going to be up? My prudish nature won out and I donned a shirt, threw the bath towel over my shoulder and quietly opened the bedroom door. Sneaking around the corner into the hall like a thief, I saw the bathroom door standing wide open. Jackpot. I pranced into the bathroom, startling Mary.

“Oh, good morning,” I said. “I was just up to get a drink of water from the kitchen. Need anything?”

“No,” she said.

I walked to the kitchen to get the drink of water, ignoring the weight around my neck. The innkeeper was up too and willing to make coffee and idle chit-chat. We had a great conversation about Grecia and discussed strategies for seeing different areas of the town when we returned in a week.

We planned to leave after breakfast to head to the beach, so our second task, after washing the travel grunge from the day before, was to take possession of our rental car. Once the rental was delivered to the B&B, we would get on the road and drive to Guanacaste (a province in the northwest quadrant of the country). We were going to spend several days at various beaches in the region to see if beach life was a better fit for us than mountain life.

After discussing with Danny the upcoming drive to Guanacaste and what to expect, our discussion petered out and he had to make breakfast. I thought it was a great time to see if the bathroom was open.

The bathroom was open; no one was in it either. Now that I had access to the shower, I began running through the instructions given the day before regarding shower operation. Something about managing the temperature by adjusting the water pressure to the showerhead.

The day before, Danny had shown us the bathroom we would be sharing and warned us there were some tricks to operating the shower. The four of us crammed into the small space, and being the tallest (and least attentive), I was relegated to the back, furthest away from the tub where the discourse was taking place. No problem. It was a shower. What was there to know? I did hear the phrase hot water on demand and was impressed with the upgraded hot water system this simple bed and breakfast seemed to have.

Jen and I had recently replaced a hot water heater in our Dallas home with a tankless heater. We lived in a gated community of about 120 homes all designed and constructed by the same builder; a builder who had the brilliant idea to install the hot water heaters for each house in the attic space of the two-story abodes. Twelve years after being installed, heaters in the community started failing, soaking homes from top to bottom, and within a six-month period the entire neighborhood had new systems. When we chose ours, the sales person had tried to sell us the hot water on demand upgrade. This would allow delivery of hot water immediately, without the need to brush your teeth after turning on the shower to allow time for the hot water to travel to the showerhead. Change was in the air for us, and since it seemed we would be selling our home and downsizing, we passed on the upgrade. My respect for our humble accommodations went through the roof knowing it had the modern marvel installed.

After entering the bathroom, I closed and locked the door, threw my terry-cloth ascot onto the toilet, reflected, then drew open the shower curtain.

There stood the object of discussion from yesterday—the showerhead. Initially I was confused, then afraid. There were what appeared to be electrical wires coming out of the showerhead—the place where water comes out. Following the path of the wire with my eyes, it moved away from the head, disappearing in the wall. I had heard and read about suicide showers during our research for this trip, but that information didn’t prepare me to see one in my bathroom.

The concept is simple. First, electricity is run to the showerhead.

(I’ll pause while you process this.)

The electricity supplies current to a heating element, which then heats the water as it passes over the element before it comes out of the showerhead. One could say it heats the water on demand.

Hey, wait a minute!

The shower was really no big deal. The water stayed warm as long as I needed it to and I did not feel any electrical tingles. This feat of engineering is ubiquitous in Latin America, and you never hear from the people the showers kill, so they must be safe.

I saved myself from scorn by not telling Jen that hot water on demand is code for suicide shower. I was sure she had listened during the training session. Instead, I put on shorts and a t-shirt in anticipation of the breaking of bread soon to come.

We made our way past the bathroom, void of people, and into the kitchen. We were greeted by the innkeeper and his wife who were making what smelled like a wonderful breakfast. We were told to have a seat at the extra long table, capable of fitting a houseful of guests. I sipped another cup of Costa Rican coffee and had a fresh squeezed orange juice chaser at the ready—plenty of things to keep my mouth occupied should I have nothing to say at breakfast.

Mary arrived shortly and we talked about our trip ahead and how well everyone did not sleep. Next to arrive at the table was a group of three, all impeccably dressed: father, Joe, and son, Timmy, in short-sleeved dress shirts and mom, Judy, in a full-length dress. They were Jehovah’s Witnesses from Ohio where Joe had a successful business but was ready to retire. Joe was in a leadership position at the church and was looking to start a church in Grecia or some other small town in the Central Valley. They had run out of people to witness to in the States and heard there were lots of Catholics here, was my guess. It is funny how often God leads people to the place they want to be.

My coffee drained, I reached for my juice.

After the initial pleasantries, the conversation turned to Costa Rica and all the wonderful things to be found and experienced. Breakfast arrived: neighbor-fresh eggs, not-quite-burnt toast and the most fabulous medley of fruits from the yard, mango, banana and papaya. Ok, so I really don’t know where the fruit and eggs came from, but with my rose-tinted spectacles firmly placed over my eyes, the food had to be local and right from the backyard; if not that, then from a neighbor.

The conversation became comfortable, as we all found common ground, and the food and drink flowed when discussion stalled. I waited for someone to mention something about oddities to be found in the bathrooms in Costa Rica, but no one wanted to talk of signs or showers this early in the morning.

Jen and I left the table shortly after my fourth glass of orange juice. We needed to finish packing our clothes in anticipation of the arrival of our rental car.

Around 10:30 Danny found us perusing the many books in the living room library. With a dubious shrug he said, “Tico time—I just called and they said ten minutes—más o menos.”

Check out time was 10 a.m., so we had scheduled our rental car to be delivered at 9:00, giving us time to look the vehicle over, sign all the paperwork and check out without having to rush to make our scheduled departure time of 10 a.m.

Living a busy, fast-paced life in Dallas required us to be planners—well, Jen to be a planner, me to be a follower. Everything we did was planned and scheduled, and we were famously on time or early for every function.

We were in Costa Rica, not Dallas, and we were experiencing tico time, that attitude of living in the moment and not adhering to a schedule if it got in the way. If Costa Rica had not been part of the Panamanian Isthmus, but instead surrounded on all four sides by water, this mentality might be called island time. Or if we were back in the U.S., it would simply be called the cable company.

Scheduled times didn’t mean a whole lot, and while we should be prepared at the scheduled time, we should also be prepared for the reality that the Costa Rican participant might be late or not come at all.

The attempt at scheduling an early rental drop was not only so that it coincided with our checkout time, but also to get us on the road in good time. We had heard that driving at night was much more dangerous than in the light of day. We took this warning seriously and were trying to be safe. As such, we were anxious as we had four to five hours worth of driving ahead and we now knew the sunset would take place early in the day.

Shortly before 11 a.m., the driver arrived with our vehicle, a Nissan SUV with 4-wheel drive. We went over the paperwork, authorized a huge deposit on our credit card, walked outside to the vehicle and took a minute to circle it; we were predators eyeing our prey, duly noting the multitude of scratches and dents. We then received a quick tutorial on how to use the navigation system, and with keys in hand, we loaded up and headed off to experience driving in Central America.

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La Sportiva Wildcat Review

La Sportiva Wildcat Review

Trail runners have replaced traditional boots as the preferred footwear for an Appalachian Trail thru-hike. I chose La Sportiva Wildcats for our 2,200 mile journey and this is my La Sportiva Wildcat review.

Before making the firm decision of thru-hiking in trail runners I tried both boots and trail runners in the mountains of the Central Valley of Costa Rica (where we lived before our thru). After hundreds of miles on each I determined that trail runners, La Sportiva Wildcats specifically, were the right choice for me, here are the reasons why:

Lightweight

For trail runners Wildcats are a bit on the heavy side but compared to boots they are light. Accumulative fatigue is a serious concern when you are hiking 8-10 hours a day, every day over the course of 6-months. It is estimated an average thru-hiker takes over 5 million steps during their journey. Having one or two fewer pounds to lift up and down will have a noticeable effect.

Dry Quickly

The Appalachian Trail is a wet trail. On a thru-hike it is probable you will experience multiple instances of multi-day rain. Wet gear is uncomfortable and causes chafing and blisters. La Sportiva Wildcats, after becoming drenched, dry quicker than their boot counterparts. Even non-leather boots.

Before hiking the AT I tried this out by crossing a river in them to get to a waterfall. The shoes were saturated but by the end of the day they had dried completely. The same cannot be said of Merrill Moabs that I had also used before the AT. I once got caught in the rain in them and it took two full days for them to dry.

One note, if you end up going the boot route, do not get waterproof boots. No boot is truly waterproof on a thru-hike and once soaked the waterproof barrier will not let the moisture escape.

Durable

You might not believe this, but I only used three pair of La Sportiva Wildcats over 2,200 miles. The first pair lasted 1,100 miles and the middle pair could have lasted longer but they had been battered by the Pennsylvania rocks and I wanted fresh treads before entering the White Mountains in New Hampshire.
I was expecting to replace the shoe every 500 miles and was completely blown away at the Wildcat’s durability. I met hikers in leather boots that only lasted 300 miles into the trip.

No Break-in Time

Because of the design of the shoe and liberal use of flexible mesh the Wildcats need minimal break-in. Traditional boots need many miles before they fit perfectly. The flexibility of the shoe and lack of break-in time also contributed to me not getting a single blister over the course of 6-months of hiking. Not one blister!

la sportiva wildcats after 1100 miles

After 1,100 miles I replaced my first pair of Wildcats (nice socks, right?)

Affordable

Selling for around $100 the Wildcat is an affordable shoe. I actual got one pair of the three on sale for $75 and free shipping. Compared to boots this is a deal. And it’s about on par for other trail runners as well, although some run up to $150; this is still nowhere near the expense of an Asolo or comparable boot.

Find the best price for Wildcat shoes on Amazon.

Lip Service

One of the greatest design features of the Wildcat is the rubber toegaurd. Where other shoes’ rubber lip stops at the top of the toe the Wildcat’s goes up and over. This is crucial because you will be kicking rocks and roots all day and the other shoe design will cause the rubber to disengage from the shoe causing it to flap.

Chica’s toe lip compared to mine.

It’s amazing other shoe companies haven’t caught on to this. I remember one hostel where everyone’s shoes were lined up on the front porch. Every single pair, save mine, had flappy rubber on the toe. True story.

Now that I sold you on the shoe what are some of the problems with them?

First off, if you have bigger feet you are out of luck. Really, anything bigger than a 13 is a no go. The European sizing goes up to 47.5 which is supposed to translate to 13.5 American, but the shoe runs small. I typically wear 12.5 – 13 size shoes and the 47.5 fits me perfectly.

Next, not all feet are the same and not everyone will have the love affair I seem to have with these shoes. In fact, one of our YouTube subscribers sent me his pair because they didn’t fit him right and he couldn’t return them. When I bought my first pair, we went to REI and I really thought I was going to walk out the door with a pair of Salomon’s. But after trying on the pair of Salomon then the La Sportiva there was no comparison. The Wildcats were like a fairy tale, they felt just right.

Finally, the mesh can break especially after hundred of miles in wet conditions. The one’s I used for 1,100 miles were starting to fall apart, but what can you expect?

Trail runners are not a great solution for those that need ankle support or for those carrying mega-weight packs. Otherwise, I think there are compelling reasons to wear trail runners on a thru-hike. La Sportive Wildcats are my choice.

 

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5 Ways to beat the heat  on an AT thru-hike

5 Ways to beat the heat on an AT thru-hike

The Appalachian Trail is famous for its Green Tunnel and one might think with all that shade, sun, and heat are not a problem, one would be wrong. Avoiding hot days on a long-distance backpacking trip is near impossible and over the course of six months and 2,200 miles on the AT, you WILL encounter oppressive temperatures. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are viable threats – be safe.

Here are five ways to beat the heat on the AT.

1) Hike early or hike late

One of the easiest ways to beat the heat on the AT is to avoid the hottest time of each day – typically between 11 am and 2 pm. If your goal is to complete a thru-hike you can’t take a day off every time the weather is not cooperating … you would never hike.

So, we work with what we’ve got and in the heat that means getting up extra early and hiking in the morning, finding shade for a mid-day nap and continuing your hike into the evening. Similarly, you can eschew the day all together and hike through the night, seeing (and hearing) the trail in a whole new light (pun intended). Make sure you have a good torch/headlamp, preferably one that is rechargeable, so you don’t have to carry heavy batteries. We used the Black Diamond Revolt.

2) Use a cooling towel

The cooling rag was my savior through all of New Jersey and New York. I would have gone mad without it, which is why it made our Gear that will Save Your Sanity post. This cheap piece of two-plied fabric stays cool if it is wet. Dip it in a stream and twirl it overhead for several rotations letting the air cool the water down. Then place it over your head, wipe your brow, or wrap it around your neck to cool you down. You can twirl it to cool it down as long as it is damp.

An alternative would be to do the same with your Buff or bandana, although these won’t stay as cool as long.

3) Stay hydrated and use electrolytes

I would venture a guess that most thru-hikers are chronically dehydrated. Even under pleasant weather conditions it is tough to hydrate someone hiking up and down mountains 10 hours a day. Add to the effort needed to complete a thru, the fact that long distance hikers are constantly trying to manage weight (water weighs 2.2 pounds per liter) and it’s easy to see hikers not drinking enough.

To beat the heat on the AT a hiker must consume more water. One way to do this is to camel-up at watering holes. Don’t just fill your Smart Water bottle, drink a liter or two in addition. The water from the spring or stream will be cold and delicious, not like the unappetizing water in your bottle after an hour in the heat, and you can carry less water to the next source.

Also, it is wise to add an electrolyte mix to your water. In the heat your body is a sieve for salt and you must replace it, otherwise the lack of sodium will cramp your style … literally. Not all water mixes have electrolytes so be sure to check the label. Our favorites were Propel and Mio.

At one point my shirt had salt crystals all over it and I was cramping severely once I got into our tent each night. In addition to the water mixes I would take salt packets from fast food joints and add them to my water. Once, I even packed out a glass jar of pickles, so I could drink the juice. Heavy, but worth it.

4) Proper clothing/ hat

Light colored clothing reflects the sun while dark colors and black absorb the heat. This is why khakis are so popular in the desert terrain. In addition to color choice many hikers disregard wearing long sleeve shirts in the summer, thinking they will be too hot. With today’s wicking fabrics long-sleeved shirts are a viable option for sun protection.

Another overlooked item is a sun hat. Many choose just to wear a baseball cap and while better than nothing, doesn’t protect the hiker as well as a hat that can shield the eyes and face AND the neck and ears like a sunhat. I used the Exoffico Bugs Away hat. It not only provided protection from the sun, it was ventilated so I didn’t overheat, it was pretreated with permethrin for mosquito and tick protection, and it could be crushed down into my pack and still retain its shape once back on my head.

5) Flip Out

Assuming you are hiking NOBO (northbound) you have the option of shuttling north in the summer. We had many friends who did this when they could no longer take the heat. They shuttled up to Maine and hiked south giving them cooler temps along the way.

For us, we wanted Katahdin to be the culmination of our trip more than we wanted to cool down. So, we suffered through about 3 weeks of heat and coped using the methods above.

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20 Hiking Quotes for Motivation, Inspiration, and Wisdom

20 Hiking Quotes for Motivation, Inspiration, and Wisdom

In only one or two lines of concise language, quotes can convey humor, stoke our motivation, cause a sentimental sigh, and inspire greatness. The following 20 hiking quotes will make you smile, motivate you to get off the couch, and mentally fuel your next trek.

Go Take a Hike!

Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.

“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”
~ Jack 
Kerouac

Quote: Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt. – John Muir

“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”
~ John Muir

No pain no rain no Maine

No Pain, No Rain, No Maine
~ Incessant, but accurate Appalachian Trail saying

Quote “Mountains are not Stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion.” Anatoli Boukreev

“Mountains are not Stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion.
~ Anatoli Boukreev

Quote: "It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves." - Sir Edmund Hillary

“It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” – Sir Edmund Hillary

Quote: "If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking. Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk." – Raymond Inmon

“If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking. Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk.”
~ Raymond Inmon

Quote: “I think,” said Christopher Robin, “that we ought to eat all our provisions now, so we won’t have so much to carry.” A. A. Milne

“I think,” said Christopher Robin, “that we ought to eat all our provisions now, so we won’t have so much to carry.”​
~ A,A. Milne

Quote: "Hiking and happiness go hand in hand or foot in boot." Diane Spicer

“Hiking and happiness go hand in hand or foot in boot.”
~ Diane Spicer

Quote: “The man on top of the mountain didn't fall there.” Vince Lombardy

“The man on top of the mountain didn’t fall there.”
~ Vince Lombardy

Quote: "The best view comes after the hardest climb."

“The best view comes after the hardest climb.”
~ Unknown

Quote: "Mountains have a way of dealing with overconfidence." Hermann Buhl

“Mountains have a way of dealing with overconfidence.”
~ Hermann Buhl

Quote: "After a day’s walk, everything has twice its usual value." G.M. Trevelyan

“After a day’s walk, everything has twice its usual value.”
~ G.M. Trevelyan

“Fall down seven times and stand up eight.”
~ Japanese Proverb

Quote: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." - Henry David Thoreau

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
~ Henry David Thoreau

Quote: “Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.” David McCullough Jr.

“Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.”
~ David McCullough Jr.

Quote: “Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.” Gary Snyder

 “Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.”
~ Gary Snyder

Quote “If you think you’ve peaked, find a new mountain."

 “If you think you’ve peaked, find a new mountain.”
~ Unknown

Quote: “Attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure” – Bob Bitchin

“Attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure”
~ Bob Bitchin

Quote: “It isn't the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it's the pebble in your shoe.” Muhammad Ali

“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.”
~ Muhammad Ali

Quote "Returning home is the most difficult part of long-distance hiking; You have grown outside the puzzle and your piece no longer fits." Cindy Ross

“Returning home is the most difficult part of long-distance hiking; You have grown outside the puzzle and your piece no longer fits.”
~ Cindy Ross

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THRU-HIKING THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL

THRU-HIKING THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL

“I think this book is worth 10 Appalachian Trail memoirs.”

~ Evan “eWolf” Schaeffer – Evan’s Backpacking Videos (YouTube)


Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail is the perfect guidebook for someone wanting to hike the AT.

The book touches on just about everything you will need to know to start planning for a successful long-distance hike and will answer questions such as:

What is the Appalachian Trail?

Why do most people quit?

What animals should you be worried about?

How do you plan and budget for a 5-7 month hiking trip?

What permits will you need?

How do you hike 2200 miles without getting a blister?

What gear do you need?

How do you do the doo in the middle of the woods?

Where should you NOT have sex when thru-hiking?

Even if you are not hiking the AT but have a loved one who is, you will find this book helpful in understanding what that loved one is taking on.”

~ Jessica “Snuggles” Rakestraw – DarwinOnTheTrail.com​ 

THRU-HIKING THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL is the perfect primer for anyone wanting to set out on this epic journey … and succeed.

Buy the eBook below:

 

 


Or buy the paperback directly from Chica and Sunsets

  • $20 – includes shipping and handling
  • Paperback book signed by both of us

 

Paperback is also available from Amazon.

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We are participants in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and other affiliate programs. These programs are designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com or other websites. All opinions are our own. 

How much does it cost to hike the Appalachian Trail?

How much does it cost to hike the Appalachian Trail?

Failing to plan is planning to fail

Once we decided we were going to attempt a thru-hike of the AT our very first planning question we asked ourselves was what is the cost to hike the appalachian trail? The problem was the answers we found were platitudinous. We found answers like, you need $1 per mile (or $2), or $1,000 a month will get you there, or a multitude of other non-specific answers.

Granted, there is a reason there is such a broad range of budgets for thru-hiking the AT. Simply put, there are too many variables to be able to say, Your hike will cost XX much. It’s like asking, how much does it cost you to live for a month? You might have an answer, but it won’t be MY answer.

Because of this lack of information, we had to wing it. We made reasonable assumptions and added a bit of fluff. We budgeted $11,000 for our thru and spent $12,709 ($2.90 per person per mile). This amount did not include gear or getting to or from the trail. Ours was not a minimalist thru-hike and it can be done much cheaper, or much more expensive.

I decided I would document all of our expenses and provide them weekly on our YouTube channel as we hiked. That playlist is HERE, or if you just want a summary, click the video below as it is the last one I did and includes our entire “on trail” expenditures.

Cost to Hike the Appalachian Trail:

Gear Costs
Getting to and Leaving the Trail
Costs On Trail
Costs In Town
OOPS Costs
Costs Back at Home
Advantage of Time

Cost of Gear for an Appalachian Trail thru-hike

Like the budget for the entire trail, how much your gear costs is subjective and is based on your preferences and what gear you already have. Chica and I spent about $1500 each (we did not have any gear to start). We bought the best gear we could find, but always bought on sale. I would estimate that we averaged saving 40 – 50% off retail for all the gear we purchased.

cost to hike the appalachian trail may be a lot but views are priceless

For example, the Big Agnes Copper Spur 3 retails for $500 and we bought ours on eBay for $300. We also found the previous year’s Leki Corklite trekking poles on Sierra Trading Post and paid $80 for them, instead of $140. One last example; my Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisper hooded puffy retails for $300. I only paid $150 but had to go with an ugly green color – It’s not a fashion show out there on the Appalachian Trail.

So, gear is going to cost you between nothing up to (and over) $3,000 depending on frugality, desire, and need. For our complete gear list go to Sunsets’ Gear list or Chica’s Gear list.

Getting to the Trail

One of the things you will have to work out is how you will get to and leave the trail, and how much this will cost. For us we took a Greyhound from central Wisconsin to Chattanooga, TN (23 hours on a bus, whew!) and then our friends drove us to Amicalola Falls Lodge where we stayed 2 nights before starting off on the approach trail.

If you are going SOBO you will probably fly into or bus into Bangor, Maine. At both terminus’ (Georgia and Maine) the trailhead is difficult to get to and you will either need a friend with a car or a shuttle service. You will most likely need a hotel stay at the beginning and end as well.

On Trail Costs

The great thing about being on trail and hiking is there is nothing to spend money on. Except of course in the Shenandoah’s with all the glorious waysides and camp-stores, and in New Jersey and New York with equally appealing deli’s. Even the most frugal of thru-hikers found it hard to resist a blackberry shake in the Shenny’s or a Taylor Ham and Cheese when the trail walked right by a deli in New York.

So, on trail costs are just daily food and food can be cheap. Typical hiker fare is pure junk, and junk food is cheap. Sure, there are those who really watched their diets on their thru, but one of the advantages to burning more calories than you can possibly consume is not having to be fussy about calories.

Popular inexpensive food items on the trail: Knorr Rice and Pasta Sides, Ramen Noodles, Spam … Yes, Spam, Pop-Tarts, all sorts of non-chocolate candies, Honey Buns, and beef jerky.

More expensive food choices: Mountain House and Back Country Meals, hard cheeses and meats, Deli and Sub sandwiches, or anything packed out from the pre-made food area at the grocery store or a fast food restaurant.

For resupply and on-trail necessities we spent $2,114.

In Town Cost

If a trail budget is going to go sideways it will happen because of fun had in trail towns. And, sometimes it’s not all fun. Trail towns have many things hikers crave after a several days or a week on the trail: beer, food that’s cooked for you and does not come in a bag, a hot shower, and a comfortable bed. That’s usually the order too!

All those things can really bust your budget, even if you have them in your budget. Remember, after about a month on the trail you will be a bottomless pit and trail towns are the one place you will be able to eat your fill.

In general, all expenses–on trail food and intown food, drink and accommodations–get more expensive the further north on the trail you go. For example, in the south typical hostel costs were $20-$25, by the time we were out of Virginia there were few (outside of donation only places) that were under $30.

So, how do you not bust your budget in towns? If you drink alcohol, grab a six-pack, your booze, or wine at a grocery store rather than at a pub or restaurant. If you are like me and are a craft beer snob a beer will cost $6 or more at a bar, but you could pick up a six-pack for just a buck or so more. If you just like beer in volume, you will not be alone in buying the much cheaper PBR or, further north, Yuengling. Most hostles and some hotels have a fridge where you can store beer and food. Be aware, some hostels do not allow alcohol on the premises.

For food volume to cost ratio nothing quite beats an AYCE (all you can eat) buffet. I’m not sure how some of these restaurants make a buck, especially the all you can eat places that don’t serve alcohol. In addition to the buffet, pizza is a boon to stave hiker hunger. In most places you can get a large pizza for about $10.

As far as accommodations go, the best way to save money is to go in with friends (or complete strangers) and get a hotel room instead of a hostel bunk. You will have a private bath and room and the cost will most likely be less if you have 4 people in the room.

Our budget entailed taking 1 “zero” (no miles hiked) a week. We would arrive in a town around 3 or 4 o’clock, find a room and then take the entire next day off (so 2 nights accommodations). We eventually figured out that a zero was too much time in town and changed our strategy to taking 2 neros (almost no miles hiked) every 4 or 5 days. On these days we would hike 2-10 miles getting into town before noon. This gave us plenty of time to do chores (laundry, shower, resupply, etc) as well as get in a lunch, dinner, and breakfast.  This was almost 2 hostel/hotel stays a week, but it also allowed for 2 showers and two resupplies a week.

Actual money spent in town was $10,058 and is broken down like this: $5,189 for in-town food (dinners out and snacks at hostels/hotels). $4,095 for accommodations which included hotels, hostels, as well as campsites that charged a fee (mainly in New Hampshire and Maine). $416 for shuttles, taxis, slack packing, and trail angel tips. $190 for other items like a haircut, going to a movie in town, etc. $161 for postage, we used the post office to send ourselves stuff or to send items home.

OOPS Costs

Thru hiking the Appalachian Trail means you are climbing and descending mountains for 8 to 12 hours a day for around 6-months. There are bound to be costs associated with the strenuous and elongated nature of the feat.

These oops costs can include things like: a new tent because a branch fell on it in the middle of the night (always look up before pitching your tent looking for “Widow Makers”), or burning through multiple pairs of shoes if you are wearing trail runners, maybe even with boots. It is likely you will fall (a lot) and one of these falls might result in a serious injury, or you may pick up Lyme disease from a deer tick, or get the flu or noro-virus, or have some other malady that requires medical attention.

All of these things need to be considered and worked into a budget. We did not ever need to see  doctor, although I did get what I think was food poisoning, which required an extra hotel stay. Chica and I each went through 3 pair of trail runners and Chica switched out her rain jacket. So, we spent a total of $518 for gear repair or replacement.

Back Home Costs

Another set of budgeting items a potential thru-hiker needs to consider is money to keep things going on the home front. This might be car insurance, a mortgage, home utilities, health insurance etc. Luckily for Chica and I, we were just transitioning back from living in Costa Rica. We literally only owned 9-suitcases worth stuff. No car, no house, no nada. So that made things easy.

Some people will rent out their homes while they are on the trek or get a house sitter. This helps keep utility expenses at bay and, for the former, can pay the mortgage or generate an income.

Healthcare is a big ‘o can of worms that is beyond the scope of this article, but it is wise to have a strategy for it. Also, consider rescue insurance should you need to be removed from a mountain. We did not carry rescue insurance and had no problems, though we did pass a woman once, who had a broken ankle waiting for EMT’s who were coming by ATV to bring her down off a mountain.

We also met quite a few thru-hikers without insurance of any kind.

The Advantage of Time

One last word on budgeting and planning your thru-hike, there is a huge benefit to be had from having ample time before an attempt at a thru-hike.

Running out of money is a common reason hikers terminate their trip. By giving yourself time you are giving yourself a better chance to succeed.

Time allows you to:

Budget your hike instead of hiking your budget

We had two years from the time we decided to hike to our start date. Since we had time to save we were able to put down on paper exactly what we wanted our hike to be like. For instance, we wanted to take a zero day a week, this necessitated two hostel/hotels stays. On those days we also wanted to feed… to eat until we were tired, not full. We wanted to enjoy a craft beer or three or a glass of wine.

So, when we set up our budget we included money to cover those things. The alternative is to say, I’ve got XX amount of money I need to make my hike fit that budget. This mindset often forces a hiker to make difficult choices. Like not being able to get off the trail after 4 days straight of rain, because it’s not time yet to stay in a hostel and there is no money for one. This then leads to misery and disenchantment with the trail, yet another reason hikers quit.

Research

Having time also allows you to do more research. Watch more YouTube hikers, make more forum posts, gather more information. While it is near impossible to train for a thru-hike you can prepare. Time gives you the advantage of wearing your full pack often, of using your rain gear in the rain, and testing out all of your gear so you KNOW when you head out, it will do its job.

Time also allows you to practice needed backcountry skills, hanging your bear bag, cooking your food, and yes, pooping in the woods. All these things will lead to a less stressful start to your trek, maybe not as hilarious of a start, but less stressful.

Get Gear Deals

By giving yourself time before your thru-hike you can shop the best deals on gear. You can get previous years’ models, shop the REI Garage Sales, find the exact piece of gear you want in the size you need on a Facebook Gear Swap Group, or find a great deal on eBay.

I hope this recap is beneficial for you in your quest to plan for your thru-hike. The whole process can seem overwhelming, but it’s just like hiking the 2,190 miles of the AT you completed by taking one step at a time.

We are participants in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and other affiliate programs. These programs are designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com or other websites. All opinions are our own. 

Snakes on the Appalachian Trail

Snakes on the Appalachian Trail

Overall, Chica and I were surprised by the number of animals we saw during our 6-months on the Appalachian Trail. Maybe it’s because we hiked as a couple and were not very stealthy, but we just didn’t see that many, especially mammals. Four bears, two moose, a few rabbits, a dozen deer, one raccoon and a whole bunch of squirrels—that’s it. The same cannot be said of snakes on the Appalachian Trail. We saw an amazing 37 snakes over the course of 179 days and 2,189 miles.

Not that we polled everyone we saw, but it seemed our reptile sightings were much higher than others’. We didn’t get a photo or video of all 37 snakes, but we did of quite a few. I will post them below along with a description and snake identity. There are two photos that are not ours (copperhead and brown water snake), but they are snakes that are common enough on the AT to include.

Venomous Snakes on the Appalachian Trail

There are only three venomous snakes that reside along the AT—the timber rattlesnake, the copperhead, and the cottonmouth water moccasin. Almost all snakes just want to be left alone and venomous snakes would prefer to reserve their venom for prey. Therefore, snake bites are extremely rare and typically only happen when a snake is stepped on (or reached for on a rock scramble) or messed with by some idiot wanting a cool selfie or channeling their inner Steve Irwin.

Cottonmouth Water Moccasin

It is very unlikely that you will encounter a cottonmouth. While they exist in states that encompass the trail, their range along the AT is only the very most southern part of the trail in Georgia. As their name implies, they like water specifically swamplands and river floodplains. Neither of which are common in the early Georgia section.

Timber Rattlesnake

“Hey Chica, stop walking. Ok, now turn around and look down.”

“Oh, shit!”

“You just stepped over a timber rattlesnake.”

That short but exhilarating conversation happened in Virginia’s Jefferson National Forest. The snake Chica stepped over was a juvenile, only 14 inches long and not a single rattle had yet grown on its tail. But that head, with its triangular shape and chipmunk cheeks, there was no mistaking what this snake was.

This rattler would be the first of a whopping 12 timber rattlesnakes we would see on our thru-hike. The reptile’s demeanor was mellow, even as it was bounded over. Things might have turned out a bit differently if Chica would have stepped on, instead of over, the stick-looking creature. But she didn’t. All of the rattlesnakes we saw, except two, were mellow, they did not coil or rattle or otherwise exhibit a defensive posture.

The scariest encounter with a rattler was in Pennsylvania. This one was not mellow at all, it made its presence known with the tell tale (or is it tell tail) maraca shake. We had stopped to get some water. The spring source was up a short rock scramble and while I fetched water to filter Jen sat her pack down against a large boulder.

We filtered and drank, idling several feet from where her pack lay. When we were done, Chica went to pick up her backpack and immediately stopped at the sound of swarming bees. She stepped toward the snake before realizing where the sound was coming from.

In gathering the water, I had walked right by the snake, never seeing it. Maybe it was under a rock and it came out to check me out. Regardless, Chica grabbing her pack set him off. I was far enough away to get a quick video (see above). Chica’s hiking poles were close to the snake, but I was able to retrieve them, and we made an uneventful exit. After leaving we wondered if we should have tried leave a note warning other hikers, but this thought only occurred several miles past the water source as we were in a shock daze from our encounter. We did mention it to several southbound hikers that past us.

Rattlesnakes are large and can be up to six feet in length. They like hiding in rocks and in tall grass. Three of the 12 we saw were laying in tall grass that paralleled the trail, just a foot or so from where people were hiking. Another four were stretched out across the trail in a sunny spot. Like all snakes timber rattlers are cold blooded and need sun to help maintain body temperature and digest food.

Eastern Timber Rattlesnake hiding in the grass. One of snakes seen on the Appalachian Trail.

Copperhead

We did not see any copperhead snakes on our thru-hike. It’s strange, we ran into multiple hikers who saw only copperheads and no rattlesnakes. The copperhead exists along the trail., mainly from Georgia to New York. They ambush their prey and are masters at camouflage as their pattern and coloring match fallen leaves, and they grow to between 2 to 3 feet in length.

copperhead snake

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Non-Venomous Snakes on the Appalachian Trail

There are many varieties of non-venomous snakes you may come across while hiking in any of the 14 states alongth the trail. We saw our first snake in North Carolina and our last snake in New Hampshire. We did not see snakes in Georgia, Tennessee, West Virginia, New Jersey, or Vermont. So, in 8 out of 14 states we came across a snake or two. Below are the non-venomous snakes we came across along with one that we didn’t, but you may very well.

Garter Snake

This snake and the next one on the list were the most prolific. They seemed to be always moving. Where some of the bigger snakes would just lay there, look at you and not move, the garter wanted to get away, fast. They come in many color schemes from dull to vibrant.

Garter Snake on the Appalachian Trail

The most interesting encounter with this snake species happened when we were hiking with a friend. She screeched and came to an abrupt halt. I pulled up beside her and she pointed a few feet in front of her and down. There was a garter snake, head raised about 8 inches off the ground heading right toward us.

I knew the snake was harmless but the way it was moving with its head high, and towards us, was menacing. As it got closer we could see it had something in its mouth. The grasshopper looked like it could get away and, people present or not, that snake was not going to let that happen.

Black Rat Snake

If you thru-hike the Appalachian Trail it is highly likely you will come across a black rat snake.Growing as long as seven feet this black beauty is difficult to miss. As their name implies the snake is fond of rodents. It makes sense then that they are sometimes found around AT shelters. They perform a great service and are harmless, so don’t go getting all Indiana Jones on them.

 

Eastern Hognose Snake

The hognose snake was by far the most memorable snake we came across on the trail. Like many of the snakes we saw this guy was laying right across the trail catching some rays. For non-venomous snakes that were laying in the trail, we tried to go around them. If there was brush or a drop off or some other obstacle that prevent us from doing that I would touch snake’s tail with my trekking pole and they would nonchalantly slither away.

Not the hognose! It acted offended when I touched its tail, as if I had grabbed it, swung it around my head a couple of times and then set it down. It was pissed. It coiled, hissed loudly, and then inflated its neck so that it looked like a cobra. Then the rest of the body grew as well as it puffed up the main body to look bigger.

It seems this is a common drama played out by hognose when it is threatened. If all this didn’t work, it might have tried a bluff strike whereby the snake strikes with a closed mouth (bites from hognose snakes are very rare). If there was still a threat, then the last line of defense would be to play dead. It would flop over on its back and stick out its tongue to its darnedest to look pathetic and unappetizing. For this one though, after the puffing up it eventually moved on into the brush.  What a cool experience.

Milk Snake

The first snake we saw on the trail was in North Carolina and was a milk snake. Although the milk snake has the coloring and somewhat the same pattern as a copperhead the diminutive head is a sign that it is harmless. We ended up seeing two other milk snakes along the way and none of them ever seemed to be in a hurry nor were they bothered by our presence.

Brown Water Snake

Another snake that is relatively common (but we didn’t see one) is the brown water snake. The photo below was taken by our friends who are thru-hiking this year. This was snapped at the river that runs through the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC).

Brown Water Snake Nantahala Outdoor Center

Photo credit Barbara Hurne

Eastern Ringneck Snake

A small grass snake with a bright yellow ring around its neck, these are common along the trail (we only saw one though).

Unidentified Snakes

The last two I don’t know what they are. If you know let me know in the comments and I will add the info to the blog post. The black one I just love its pattern. These have since been identified. The first is a red-bellied snake and the second is another garter snake. 

Thanks for joining us on a tour of the snakes we saw on our thru-hike of the AT. I would love to hear your story of snake encounters on the Appalachian Trail. If you have one, comment below.

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A Walk for Sunshine – excerpt

A Walk for Sunshine – excerpt

If you are like me consuming hiking books is like eating after you have been on the trail for a month … you read everything you can get your hands on. Today we provide you with an excerpt from A Walk for Sunshine, Jeff Alt’s memoir of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail to honor his brother who has cerebral palsy. Buy it on Amazon.

Jeff Alt A Walk for SunshineChapter 5
Strange Bedfellows
Blood Mountain, Georgia. March 2, 1998. 28 miles from Springer Mountain, Georgia.

AT SUNRISE THE NEXT MORNING, everyone immediately started moving about, and I could finally see the faces of the folks I had intruded on the night before. No one looked like an ax murderer, but then, what does an ax murderer look like? The group consisted of a retired minister and his wife (the Spoons), a retired gentlemen (Bevo), a college student between career/academic paths (Magaroni), and a man of about 50 (Packrat). It turned out that he was attempting a thru-hike for the fourth time and was not retired and hadn’t taken a sabbatical from work. He had just plain quit his job in order to hike.

Everyone had assembled their gear into packs before I finished making coffee. I was moving slowly, and every step I took resulted in jolting pain from my blisters. Everyone said goodbye and good luck and was on the trail by 8 a.m.

My feet were pathetic. I sat there on my sleeping bag staring down at the most important asset for a hiker. My dogs were covered in square bits of flesh-colored moleskin and strips of duct tape. It looked like I had walked through a pile of confetti with glue on my feet. I squeezed painfully into my boots. My backpack was leaning against the side shelter wall, so I sat down on the shelter platform, leaned back, and slipped my arms through the pack straps. I stood up and immediately thought, It’s going to be a long day. I trudged on. The temperature remained low, never breaking 40 degrees. I moved along all day, winding through the Chattahoochee National Forest, going up and down Georgia’s finest mountains. By mid-afternoon, I arrived at a gap in the mountains called Miller Gap. Looking at the map unfolded on my lap, the profile showed a continuous five-mile climb straight up Blood Mountain, the highest peak of the AT in Georgia. This mountain was named after an Indian battle between the Cherokee and the Creek Indians. Supposedly, the battle was so fierce that blood dripped down the mountain.

I began my ascent after energizing myself with a candy bar. Every step challenged my balance. I felt like a roller-coaster car slowly approaching the top of the biggest hill, catching each chain link as I progressed closer to the top. As I approached the summit, it began to snow. The temperature had dropped significantly. Just the day before, it had been 60 degrees and sunny. The thermometer attached to my pack read 20 degrees, and when I stopped to take a drink, I noticed slush forming in my water. I was concerned. The profile map gave a poor indication of how much farther I had to go in order to reach the shelter. I could stop and pitch my tent if the weather became severe, but there would be no water supply.

Eventually, I summited Blood Mountain, which is a respectable 4,460 feet above sea level. The trail led smack into a four-walled gray stone shelter on the summit. Given the declining weather and a tough 12-mile day with raw feet, I decided to stop there for the night.

I stepped into the shelter and found one of the men that stayed with me the night before. His trail name was Bevo, and he was a Texan. Bevo is the name of the mascot of the University of Texas. The shelter had window cutouts but no panes of glass or shutters. The wind had picked up and was blowing snow into the shelter, which had begun to drift onto the sleeping platform. Bevo and I took the plastic ground cloths from our tents and some duct tape and secured it to the southern window, but the tape kept coming off. We collected some rocks from outside the shelter and used them as weights to hold the plastic.

We then cut some slits in the plastic so that it wouldn’t tear in the strong wind. I laid out my sleeping bag, put on all of my winter gear, and began cooking dinner. Since I was no longer walking and carrying a pack, my body got cold quickly. After dinner, I walked outside to answer nature’s call and noticed that I could see the lights of Atlanta. It was too cold to appreciate the view, so I ran back into the shelter. As soon as I could, I climbed into my sleeping bag, pulled out my headlamp and some paper, and began writing in my journal: March 2: 12 miles today, feet are hamburger. The temperature is around 20 degrees. The year of “El Nino” is not giving me the warm weather everyone predicted. Hopefully better weather tomorrow. Heading into Neels Gap for my first resupply.

I turned off my headlamp and burrowed deep into my sleeping bag to keep warm. In spite of the cold, I managed to doze off sometime later, only to be awakened by a heavy object moving across my feet and lower legs. I could hear my heart beating over the sound of an unknown creature moving around on top of my legs. Not knowing what to expect, I cautiously reached out, grabbed my flashlight, and turned it on. A skunk was lying on my sleeping bag! I cautiously nudged it with my foot, and it jumped off the platform, raising its tail. Great. The last thing I needed was a putrid scent on my gear and body, but the skunk didn’t spray me. Instead, it ducked out of sight under the bunk platform, which was about eight inches off the ground.

I took out my candle and lit it. I figured the little critter would leave me alone, being afraid of flames. I was wrong. Twenty minutes later, I felt the weight drop on my feet and legs again, I sat up, and there he was, sprawled out on my sleeping bag again. The candle had given him enough light to precisely place his body between my legs on my bag. I decided that he just wanted to keep warm and that he was going to stay there, so I lay back down. Believe it or not, I actually fell asleep with a skunk on my feet.

The next morning, the skunk was gone. He must have gotten up at first light and scurried back under the platform. I poured some water into my pan and fired up the stove. The temperature had remained below 20 degrees all night. I made some coffee with the hot water and ate a granola bar.

I only had a two-mile descent to Neels Gap, my first resupply point. I packed up my gear more quickly than I had done on the previous day. My feet still hurt, but the cold weather kept me moving fast in order to keep warm. I figured that the quicker that I moved down the trail, the quicker I would warm up.

Author Jeff AltBiography (from Amazon)
Jeff Alt’s adventures, books, and advice have been featured on ESPN, Discovery Channel.com, Hallmark Channel, in Backpacker Magazine, the AP, Fitness RX for Men, LA Times, Women’s Health, Shape, Scholastic Parent & Child, and more. Alt is a celebrated author and a talented speaker. Alt’s book, A Walk for Sunshine, won the Gold in the 2009 “Book of the Year” awards sponsored by Fore Word Reviews, it took first place winner in the 2009 National Best Books Awards Sponsored by USA Book News and won a Bronze in the 2010 Living Now Book Awards. Alt’s book, Get Your Kids Hiking, won the bronze in both the 2014 Living Now Book Awards and the 2013 IndieFab Award in Family and Relationships. Alt has now created an award-winning children’s National Park series, The Adventures of Bubba Jones. The third book in the series will release in June, 2018. He is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA). Alt has walked the Appalachian Trail, the John Muir Trail with his wife, and he carried his 21-month old daughter across a path of Ireland.

We are participants in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and other affiliate programs. These programs are designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com or other websites. All opinions are our own. 

5 Brilliant Gear Solutions for Long-Distant Hikers

5 Brilliant Gear Solutions for Long-Distant Hikers

Gear, gear, gear. It’s easy to get bogged down in the minutia of gear stats when outfitting a long-distance hike. Weight, size, material, multi-use’ness, cost, it seems an unending process to choose what is best. Today’s list is 5 items that can be easily left out, but provide gear solutions to common backpacking problems. Most of these serve multiple purposes and they all are lightweight compared to their utility. (more…)

Five Free Resources For The AT Thru-Hiker

Five Free Resources For The AT Thru-Hiker

Some of the resources that a thru-hiker needs or wants are available for free in various formats. Here are my 5 favorites.

1) GPS and in-phone maps:

The Hiker Bot app is a free tool that can take the place of Guthooks. Sadly, it is not yet available for Apple iWhatever products. But, if you are an Android user, check it out, it might save you $70. (more…)

Order your signed copy of Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail here!

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