Q & A Post

“What are you guys going to eat out on the trail? Berries and ramps?”

It is a fairly common question and the answer is, “Yes.” At least the berries part. Blueberries are rampant (sorry) along the trail once they come into season. Actually, ramps are too, but I’m not so sure about those. Never had ‘em.

In truth, for most of the trip we will be able to get into town every 3-4 days. When there, we’ll shower (yeah!), do laundry, and resupply our food. We’ll also have the option of sleeping indoors in one of the many hostels and hotels in towns along the trail. Even though there are few grocery stores adjacent to the trail, hostels usually provide shuttle service into town for meals and resupply.

Gavin and I did our initial food trip today. I hope we got everything we need. Actually, I’m sure we did, and then some. So what do we eat? Here is our startup menu:

Breakfast:

  • Oatmeal
  • Carnation Instant Breakfast
  • Coffee/Hot Chocolate
  • Cliff Bars
  • Powdered Milk

Lunch:

  • Tortillas with peanut butter & raisins or pepperoni & cheese
  • More protein bars

Snack:

  • Peanut M&Ms
  • Snickers
  • Dried Fruit
  • Slim Jim’s
  • Cheese
  • Fruit Gummies
  • Nuts

Supper:

  • Knorr Pasta or Rice Sides
  • Ramen noodles
  • Summer Sausage
  • Spam
  • Chicken in a pouch

All the above is typical hiker fare which will be heavily supplemented with cheeseburgers and pizza when we get into town.

When on the trail, we’ll be burning 3,000-5,000 calories/day. That averages out to about two pounds of food each day. What I’ve learned about backpacking food is, the more calories, fat, and protein, the better. This seems incredibly wrong to me, but I’ve heard that even though a hiker’s diet is largely junk food (think honey buns for breakfast) for six months, all the extra exercise day in and day out makes it all okay. On a hiker podcast I was listening to today, the 50ish host said his cholesterol levels just off the trail were the best they’ve ever been.

Even though we’ll be eating tons of food that is high in calories and as light in weight as possible, I still expect we’ll lose a bunch of weight. It is not uncommon for a hiker of my stature to lose 40+ pounds along the journey, even while eating and snacking all day long. About a week into our trip, we will develop “hiker hunger,” which is akin to the “see food diet.” For all the demands being placed on our bodies, we will develop an insatiable appetite and will somehow still lose weight. I’m looking forward to that part. I just hope I can turn it off when we get off-trail.

“Are you going to sleep in a tent for the whole six months?”

Yes and no. As I mentioned above, we’ll be able to sleep indoors at least once a week if we want to. Our options in the woods are either our tents or shelters, which are 3-sided structures that are located every 8-15 miles along the trail. They will be a welcome site (see what I did there?) when it is raining or snowing, but my feeling right now is that I’d rather stay in my tent as often as possible. Shelters tend to be crowded, especially in inclimate weather. I’d rather not have to climb over and around folks if I need to get up in the night. They also tend to be a hotbed for norovirus.

“How far are you going to hike each day?”

We are intentionally planning to start slowly to mitigate the chance of early injury and to give our bodies time to adjust. Our stop/start locations will be largely dictated by shelter and campsite locations which are spaced fairly closely together early on along the trail. In the first two weeks, most of our planned days are less than 8 miles, but there are a couple that are 11.5ish. Since we usually hike at a pace of around 2 mph, this will mean 4-6 hours hiking each day. This will give us plenty of chance to acclimate ourselves to the trail. We will also be able to stop to rest and enjoy the views without feeling the need to push onward. Most important, we will arrive in camp with plenty of time to set up in the daylight.

Once we get farther up into NC/TN and definitely VA, we’ll develop our “trail legs,” meaning we will be in top physical shape and can do longer days. I expect that through Virginia, we’ll be able to put up 15-20 mile days with regularity. That will keep up until we get into New Hampshire where we will confront the White Mountains. Because of this section’s difficulty, most folk’s mileage is cut in half there. There is even one area, Mahoosuc Notch, which is called, “the most difficult mile on the AT.” Here, we will be climbing over, under, and around house-sized boulders. It takes most folks 1-2 hours to complete this single mile of the trail.

“How will you keep in touch with folks back home?”

Though there will be periods of interruption, we should have cellular service most days while we are on the trail. With luck, Gavin and I will be able to call home and check in, or at least send messages at the end of the day. We are also bringing along a SPOT Personal Locator Beacon which was loaned to us by a friend. It is a satellite-based GPS unit that will ping our location every 30 minutes. Beth will be able to “see” us on a map, and when we don’t have cell service I can have it send a precomposed message such as, “Made it to camp and are doing okay.” It also has an SOS button on it that will summon wilderness rescue personnel should we find ourselves in a dire situation. Hopefully we won’t accidentally hit that one! For that matter, I hope we don’t hit it on purpose either. With luck, we’ll have enough service to update the blog frequently, if not daily.

“What about bears? Are you taking a gun/bear spray?”

No. There is really no need for a gun for protection on the Appalachian Trail. If the bears have read the same books that I have, they know that they’re way more scared of me than I will be of them, though I’m not really sure that’ll be the case if I encounter one on-trail (mental note: pack extra underwear). The only real danger from bears is getting between a mama bear and her cubs. Bears only come around humans to get their food. For that reason, we will either be hanging our food from a tree limb or putting it in bear-proof containers provided at many shelters. Unfortunately, some people are careless with their bear-hangs, or they just don’t bother. When bears begin to associate humans with food, it usually ends badly for the bear. Last summer there was such a bear in the Grayson Highlands section of the trail, just across the VA line. Because of the bear’s frequent assaults on food bags, a 20-mile section of the trail was closed for camping in that area. Unfortunately, bears that become a nuisance are generally euthanized. Thus the saying, “A fed bear is a dead bear.”

Congratulations! You’ve made it to the bottom of another lengthy diatribe where I try to use as many big words as possible! Gavin and I really appreciate you for following us along the trail, and we hope you’ll send us comments with words of encouragement as we hike northward. If you would like to be notified by email when we post, just put your address in the subscribe box in the right margin of the page. Also, please check out our YouTube channel; subscribe if you like. It is linked at the top of this page.

32 thoughts on “Q & A Post”

    1. Thanks so much! We appreciate your prayers and support. I’ll miss typing, “Good morning, Wayne!” On Sundays.

    1. Hope I’m not too late. There are not bear proof containers at the shelters. In the early miles you hang your food on a pully system provided. Later on, you’ll have to hang your own…high up. Also, I started with your platypus…too much weight. Get two Sawyer minis that simply screw to the tops of large Smart Water bottles. Your breakfast menu requires a lot of water. You’ll spend a lot of time and effort making all that. Ramen noodles provide NO energy and are lost calories. Please reconsider the dog. There are sections they are not permitted, too much tick activity, and they struggle carrying their food. If you were only doing a week or two section the dog would be a joy, but not long distance. You will have trouble finding dog food at small resupply points. I know I sound like negative Nellie, but your posts are identical to mine in 2016. You will learn….go slow at first. Really!! God Bless your adventure

      1. Thanks for the suggestions. We may switch to Sawyers, but I like the idea of not having to deal with squeezing– we’ll get water going before setting up camp, and when we’re ready to eat, it will be too. I hadn’t thought about the water requirement for breakfast. We may have to rethink that and switch to bars. I’ll have a look at the ramen too. It isn’t on our menu for the first four days- Knorr pasta & rice with added protein such as summer sausage and chicken. Last but not least, Joy is NOT coming on the trip with us. She is too high maintenance and I’m not sure she is that in love with hiking to commit to 2,200 miles.

        1. Yes, I’m also worried about the dog. We took a one year old Great Dane and she hurt so bad she couldn’t walk.
          I see dog Joy is not coming on 2200 miles trip. Super happy to hear that.

      2. Yes, I’m also worried about the dog. We took a one year old Great Dane and she hurt so bad she couldn’t walk.

  1. Good luck, Rob! I am excited for the opportunity you and Gavin have, and I’ll be praying for safety for you both. I can’t wait to hear of your daily adventures! I am proud of you!

  2. What a great endeavor. Looking forward to regular updates reading about your adventures. Be safe and God bless you on The Amazing Journey.

  3. I’m delighted to have come across your post. You and your family will be in my prayers. This verse came to mind while reading Gavin’s Trail Prayer:
    “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.” Ps 32:8
    Sparrow

  4. We live in Waynesboro PA close to the AT. If you need a place to rest and stay we would be happy to host you both.

  5. You and your family are amazing!
    Dan and I look forward to following this incredible adventure and send our love and prayers every day.

  6. Do you plan to vlog on a YouTube channel? Would love to follow you two. Maybe even provide some trail magic when you get close to the mid point (I live in the DC area). I was an Assistant Scoutmaster for our troop and served as crew advisor for two Philmont treks. My son made Eagle and our times on the trail were the favorite part of scouting for both of us. Safe journey and hike on!

    Steve

    1. Thanks Steve. The URL for YouTube is at the top of the page in the menu. It is too long for me to remember. Thanks for following along. We are trying our best to create a Where Are We? page with data from our SPOT locator. I thought I had it figured out, but when I tried to look at today’s hike to the top of Amicalola Falls, it doesn’t have any data. Once I get it working, you’ll see it in the menu at the top as well.

  7. Robert…

    We’re in Roanoke, VA and when you get here (about early to mid June) contact us if you need anything or a place to bed down and wash clothes for an overnight. I saw lots of through hikers from here north along the Parkway my 25 years as a ranger here. God bless!

    Peter & Carole (Gabriel) Givens 540 682 6673 (c)

    1. Peter,

      It is great to hear from you! We’ll certainly look you up when we’re in the area. I have a former roommate that lives in Roanoke as well, so I expect we’ll definitely be getting off-trail there for a day or so. We appreciate you following along!

      Rob

  8. Thinking about and praying for you and your family. Hope you enjoy the trail as much as I am enjoying your posts.

  9. Hello Rob. I am enjoying following you and your son. I hope to do something similar next year so I am learning from your various experiences. Quick question: Do you find the white blazes on the trees to be sufficient for navigation or do you need a map and compass to stay on course? The reason I ask is that I read of one of your group missing a turn.

    Thanks and have a great adventure.
    Mike O

    1. We have the AT Guide (pdf format on our devices) and Guthook App which is GPS enabled. There is not much way to get off-trail with that app. Check it out— it is pricy, but everyone has it.

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