And Miles to go Before I Sleep

Sitting in Harper’s Ferry (mile 1,023) I am fully aware of my lack of updates—at least text-based ones. One would think that with 20+ miles a day alone in the woods I could devote some modicum of my time to enshrining my experiences within the written word. Don’t get me wrong, I have spent literal days writing and rewriting imaginary paragraphs in my head, but somehow every day I roll into camp in the early evening and all I want from this world is roughly 2,000 calories and 10 hours of sleep. I come to this digital linguistic playground begging forgiveness. With head bowed I submit my humble apologies along with an update that will hopefully satiate those of you inclined to worry. May these words paint a small snapshot of the joys and sorrows, the sunshine and deluges, the good and the bad, the smelly and the truly horrendous.

So here it is: one comprehensive update, one soulful outpouring of internal and external insights, one long awaited dirty diatribe.

(Note: photos have no particular order, sense, or relevance to the words in or around them. Enjoy!)

Central VA. Easy trail and perfect weather. The next day it rained 2 inches in a few hours…

So How’s It Going?

In a word? Great! After a thousand miles walking has become second nature. We wake up, groan and howl our discomfort while hobbling around (dubbed the “hiker krump”) taking down our stuff and cramming enough calories down our throats to sustain us until lunch.

Me crushing some pop-tarts at Dragon’s Tooth. Photo by Strider.

The real game is mental at this point. While hiking is still work and big hills still make me sweat, our leg strength and cardiovascular health is truly amazing. Short of true catastrophic injury or bankruptcy there is very little that tangibly stands in our way.

The mind game is where the struggle is. All of us find our ways to keep going and still have fun. Strider chants “This takes hard work, dedication, and perseverance, I wanted this, I like hiking, I am having fun” a few times every morning. Wet Wipes has taken to carrying around a birthday balloon he was given weeks ago-caring for it as one of his own. Oz contemplates the sheer terror of the mundane world and suddenly twenty miles in the woods doesn’t look so bad. We live to eat. We live to sleep. And misery loves gluttony.

This was cold. I was not happy. At. All. Photo by Legs.

I spend my days actively trying to maintain my sense of curiosity. It’s work to be out here, but consciously fostering a level of wonder and spontaneity is what keeps me going. It also helps that I’ve been walking with the same trail family for nearly 800 miles. Coming into a shelter at night is always fun. We laugh, we cry, we eat, we sleep, we pop blisters, we revel in our filth, we celebrate the big miles, we bemoan the wet parts, and we marvel at our evolving and unique odors.

In short. We hike. And together, we are learning to love it—even the bad bits.

So How’s Your Gear Doing?

So far so good! I sent my waterproof socks, down vest, and sleeves home weeks ago after finishing the Smokies and I have gained a closed-cell-foam pad for sleeping in the rare shelter. Other than that, nothing has changed and I continue to love my hammock with all my heart.

My view. Almost every night.

As it shifts to truly warm weather my sleep system may evolve, but for the next few weeks it will continue to function without drowning me in my own sweat.

Do You Have a Trail Name?


Me. Hampton, VA. Eating a McDouble while doing laundry. Photo by Legs.

Yes. Glim-Glom is my name and I am Glim-Glom. About 900 miles ago we were all sitting around and Darwin could not remember my real name for the life of him. Eventually he proclaimed “if you name was something easy like Glim-Glom, maybe I could remember it!” Two weeks later, the name finally stuck.

Ponies in the Grayson Highlands!

Names out here are beings and powers unto themselves. People slowly mold themselves and their names to fit who they are and what they want to be out here. Glim-Glom (which we have established is actually an honorific, not an actual name) makes sense out here—it doesn’t when you give it when ordering food in town.

How’s the Food?

Salty, sweet, and in quantities that defy certain natural laws. Check out the instagram for more culinary adventures.

Standard 2 day resupply.

What’s Next?

Another thousand miles, that’s what’s next! Tomorrow we will be attempting the quad-state challenge. We’ll be walking from Virginia, through all of Weat Virginia and Maryland, and into Pennsylvania. 42.7 miles in less than 24 hours. But first I’m going to eat an entire pizza and probably some mozerella sticks. Priorities. 

We didn’t stay here. We did a 10 mile night hike instead. Good decisions.

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Honey-Badger the Wise: Sage Advice 450 Miles In

On March 4th in the year of our lord 2017, a lone man approached Springer mountain and the world would be forever changed.

Honey-Badger (with a hyphen) was his name and he was Honey-Badger. Called by some unseen force, history would soon measure events on the the trail using pre and post “HB” as a temporal reference. Wise beyond his years and strong of mind and body, his wisdom, nurturing spirit, and social tact was a beacon to which we all held true. A city atop a hill, a paragon of the pack, a titan of the trail—Honey-Badger is a spiritual guide and physical whip inspiring all to hike bigger miles, eat more, and complain less.


Honey-Badger. Dirty, smelly, and staunchly ignoring a beautiful view. Photo by Legs. Check her out over at travelandtrek.com!

What follows is a record of his words and deeds. Psalms, odes, and epics all fall short of the majesty and pure animal instinct of Honey-Badger. May we all strive to incorporate “the Badger” more completely into our lives.

———————————-

On Mental Fortitude:

On an evening where the mercury was flirting with the bottom of the thermometer, Honey-Badger offered his first treatise on the power of the mind. We gathered in a frozen circle around his prone form, heat waves glimmering above his head: “You’re only as cold as you think you are,” he growled. “And it’s only snowing if you say it is.” We nodded, absorebing this tidbit.

Honey-Badger soon rounded out his philosophy on the mental side of backcountry living with idioms such as “you’re only as sweaty as you think you are,” “it only hurts if you say it does,” and “it’s only sprained if you let it be.”

As we push into Virgina, we are all slowly learning to strengthen our minds and harden our hearts, forming our own realities, and staunchly ignoring the hardships before us.


On Physical Strength

Honey-Badger’s thoughts on pack weight and load efficiency can be summed up with a single event: when asked why he was carrying a five pound tent (heavy for a through hiker) by a self-proclaimed “ultralighter” his response was simply, “I’m trying to get jacked legs bro.” The weight on his back means nothing. He’s packed out wrenches and six-packs, hot-dogs and sparklers. After all, in his words “your pack is only as heavy as you think it is.”


A standard three day load for the Badger. All told, pushing 60 pounds.

On Walking

When last asked how far he was going that day, Honey-Badger’s response was simply “to Maine.” After all, miles only mean something if you let them. Stopping for the night is optional, never encouraged, and if you’re willing to go another two miles, you can go another ten.


A little bit of wisdom in a care package from Mamma Komorowski.


On Eating

Meals are a sacred time for Honey-Badger, and there is always room for more food, even if the pack is full. Counting calories is for amateurs, and excess water weight in food is always a good thing. But he never, ever, drinks his dish water.

———————————-

In summary, Honey-Badger is a force to be reckoned with both on trail and off. He once hitched into town and came back having been given fifty dollars in cash, free drinks at the local brew pub, and free gear from the gear rep who drove him back to the trail head. The trail is still trying to adjust and accommodate “the Badger.”

———————————-


Yesterday. Hello Virginia. I’ll see you for the next 550 miles.

In other news I’m in Damascus, VA. Over 20% of the trail lies behind us. I’ve been walking with Honey-Badger, Wet-Wipes, Strider, Legs, and Darwin for over 200 miles. Morale is high, and all of Virginia lies ahead. May everyone’s backs stay strong, feet stay hardy, and stomachs stay full.


The gang in their respectable and responsible glory. Photo by Strider. Check him out over at pursuesomepath.blogspot.com!

XOXO,

Glim-Glom (more on the name to come)

Applied MicroBio: Hiking and the Human Skin

Metaphors become claggy, oafsome vehicles of sensory stand-ins when faced with the heroic and heady aromas of several hundred miles of sweat, smegma, and suffering. Most self-respecting similes just pack it up like a tourist who has contracted giardia and double diphtheria. Allusions fall to the depths of places better left to the imagination.

This photo is totally out of context: Wet Wipes and Honey Badger getting to the top of Max Patch.

All that to say that any literary technique employed below falls short of the true olfactory potpourri that takes place when a gathering of long distance hikers (henceforth known has a through throng) rolls into town.

Also unrelated: a resupply at a general store in Gatlinburg, TN. Note the high calorie content, but mediocre nutrition. Check out the instagram @forgetthetp for creative uses of some of the above products!


I’ve been on trail for about three weeks, so while I’m not yet capable of inflicting lasting damage on some unsuspecting bystander’s schnoz, I like to think people can smell me coming should the wind be in a cooperative mood. We’re also at that delicate stage where we (hikers) can still smell ourselves. This unwelcome skill should soon disappear. There is a sick sense of pride in the stench of a through hiker. You all know I’m not one for over-dramatizations, or romanticizing something better left in the bowels of hell, but the smell of the men and women I am traveling with is otherworldly. I truly believe that the secret to enlightenment lies somewhere in the culture of Brevibacterium linens currently calling my skin home. The number of S-methyl thioesters (think the smell of sulphur but with a little more odor du fromage) sloughing off my person is audacious to say the least. I kid you not: the microza we hikers are carrying around is the same stuff used to give Limburger and Raclette its punch.

I have taken three showers and spent 45min in a hot tub since hitting the trail. It’s gotten to the point that single showers are not really capable of making a dent in what is currently wafting off my body’s largest organ. Honestly, the only reason I’m still washing my hair is because I don’t want my it to turn into one matted mass.

More important than our odor control is maintaining proper personal hygiene. The biggest thing to combat (personally) is salt residue. As sweat dries is leaves behind salt which will literally tear its way through your skin if you’re not careful. I usually wash all lower extremities each morning to prevent any lasting damage to the parts of my body that legally need to be covered in public. As usual you also need to make sure you are washing your hands, using hand sanitizer, not letting people stick their hands into your bags of food, and giving through hiker fist-bumps instead of handshakes.

In short: we smell bad. Part of me hates it. The other part still wallowing in 5th grade and fart jokes thinks it’s awesome.

Wet Wipes and I set up in “porch mode” our first night out of the Smokies. Not shown: the breakfast I cooked while still laying in bed that morning. We literally sat for an hour this morning just wallowing in comfort before walking 17 miles (no longer wallowing in comfort).

(I’m also out of GSMNP and taking my first zero in Hot Springs, NC for those of you concerned with, like, progress and stuff).

A Physical and Emotional Analysis of the First Three Days

General Update:

Three days in and I’m at Neal Gap. Now. This is roughly twice as far as I was planning to be at this point but I made some gross miscalculations during what will hitherto be labeled the “theoretical” portion of my hike.

Somebody really digs the color white. I get it, but I feel like a nice eggshell or winter butter is a little softer, and while less universal, is more versatile when using earth tones.

Firstly, I am still on a dairy farm schedule, which means I’ve been waking up at 5:30 every day ready to take on the world. Secondly, hiking 8 miles has been taking roughly 4 hours so we’re all rolling in at noon. Thirdly, bumming around in camp cannot occupy anyone for 9 hours with any genuine entertainment. Fourthly, I’m never going to get that premier “hiker stench” if I don’t get my butt in gear right from the get go. So I keep getting to where I was planning to stop by lunch and just kind of keep going.


Blood Mountain Shelter. Part of today’s 17-ish miles. Beautiful. Old. And a bit like a basement on top of a mountain. You need to have bear cans to stay here. I don’t, so I didn’t.

All that to say armchair through hiking, while enjoyable and more shower-filled, wasn’t wildly helpful. On the plus side; I get to eat three days worth of food tomorrow.
Physical Analysis

In summary: the human body is flipping sweet and trekking poles are a gift from god.

I feel great! I’m tired, reasonably sore, but nothing is saying “hey, this is genuine pain.” It’s more, “hey, whose idea was this and why didn’t we consult your calves for a second opinion?”

In other news I successfully executed my first snot-rocket! For the un-initiated, this is when you get a good wad of boogers all up in a nostril and instead of using a tissue or bandana like a real human being you just force a bunch of air out of one nostril, thereby ejecting said phlegm with no following cleanup. This has been something I have struggled with for years. My father had this skill down to a science and my sister had this casual method during runs where you don’t even realize it’s happened until you see here take off faster than before, sinuses free and clear. Traditionally, my feeble snot-rockets leave a lot to be desired. They also leave a lot just kind of hanging off my chin. But not today! Today a beautiful emission of brain gold took place. Twice.


Not a snot-rocket. But almost as good.

I’m also slowly developing a Pavlovian response every time I pull out my trowel. Good news, but this could become an issue should other people’s trowels begin to illicit similar urges.
Emotional Analysis

People out here are so stinking supportive! I think most of us realize that few of us are experts and we’re all trying to do and get the same thing. You are constantly leap-frogging the same dozen or so people so you get to regularly check in with the hikers around you. We’ll see how jaded and surly we all get after the initial honeymoon phase wears off, but so far this is a wonderful crowd to hike with.

In Summary

So far so good! Check out the Instagram (@forgetthetp) for a few other photos and I’ll see y’all back here the next time I can grab some free Wi-Fi.

Bonus photo. Neel Gap. An outdoor goody Mecca. A gear junky’s Shangri La. A veritable smorgasbord of sil-nylon, cuban fiber, dyneema line, and aircraft-grade aluminum.

What’s in the Box?

Box or Bag–it makes no difference because mine doesn’t have Gwyneth Paltrow’s noggin’ in it.

You can view everything in my pack using the web-application LighterPack. This is what I will be carrying on my way up Springer. I am suffering under no illusion: I fully expect this list to change. This is not an ultralight set-up. It’s barely lightweight. It is a system that I have built over the course of several years and numerous shakedown hikes. But there is no substitute for through hiking, and the moment the realization finally hits that I am responsible for dragging everything strapped to my sorry caracas 2000 miles north, I’m sure some changes will be made.

I’ve broken my kit down into digestible sections (more as a personal exercise than for reader enjoyment) for your perusal. I will say that a fair chunk of my stuff comes from small cottage vendors. The customer service is incredible, their prices are as good if not better than big brand outfitters, and you can call up and chat with the actual person who put together your gear. I agonized over every single item you see below and could talk at length about each and every one. Someday I might. But today is not that day. If you have questions about anything you see below just give a shout!

The Big Three


While not referring to Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt or the Milt Jackson album (yes go look him up), the big three does refer to the three (surprise surprise) largest items in any hikers pack. Namely: your shelter, sleep system, and the pack itself. I’ll be using a hammock so my shelter is a little less straight forward that a simple tarp or tent, but I like it and it keeps my knot-tying skills from going rusty. It also means I need top and bottom insulation (a cold booty is no beauty).

Shelter

  • Tarp: Cuben fiber tarp from Z-Packs with homemade ridge-line attached with homemade soft-shackles and prusik knots
  • Snakeskins: From MountainGoat gear–operated by one woman out in the mountains above Santa Cruz
tarp

Tarp and snakeskinz

  • Bug Net: From Papa Smurf over at Dream Hammock.
  • Tree Straps: From Dutch at Dutchwaregear.com
  • Hammock: From Hummingbird Hammocks
  • Structural Ridgeline: Homemade from 120″ 7/64 Amsteel
  • Stakes: Random aluminum stakes salvaged from the gear bin in my parent’s attic.

hammock-straps-and-stakes

Hammock and bug net, stakes, and tree straps

Sleep System

quilts

Top quilt and under quilt

The Pack

pack

Backpack and chest pouch

Clothing (Not Worn)


Self explanatory category. These items include rain and wind gear, insulating layers, clothing I’m going to sleep in, and a few fashion accessories absolutely essential to a successful through hike. This is where I’ll probably see the largest shifts over the course of the hike as the weather and my ability to embrace the suffering changes.

Rain and Wind

frogg-toggs

Frogg Toggs rain jacket

wind-pants

Wind pants

  • Rain Mitts: eVents from REI
  • Gloves: fleece Thinsulates from God knows where

gloves-and-rain-mitts

Fleece gloves and rain mitts

Insulating layers

down-vest

Down vest

down-sleeves

Down sleeves (can be used to turn my vest into a down jacket, can be used as leg/foot warmers on cold nights, or as a pillow)

fleece

Hooded fleece with big pockets for snacks

Headgear

Town/Sleepwear

 

Kitchen/Hydration


Yes I will be treating my water. Does this mean I can just take a scoop from yee-old-cholera-well and call it a day? No. Does it mean I may not get giardia? Maybe. Is my physician sleeping better knowing that I’m not just sticking my face in a puddle and slurping? Absolutely. I’m going to be bringing along an alcohol stove. There have been volumes dedicated to the benefits and detriments of the alcohol stove. Because you are only ever a few days away from a resupply on the AT and I’m only cooking one hot meal a day, alcohol stoves still technically save fuel weight so I’m going for it. This can totally change at the drop of a hat.

Water Accoutrements

  • Clean Water Bottles: 2x 900mL Evernew bladders
  • Dirty Water Bottle: 2L Evernew bladder
  • Filter: Sawyer Squeeze w/ Frankenstein gravity setup

water-system

Water system (see above)

Cooking Gear

  • Stove: Aluminum alcohol stove that I’ve had for years
  • Wind Screen: Heavy duty aluminum foil
  • Fuel Bottle: 8oz bottle that I’ve had for years
  • Pot: IMUSA mug with homemade lid
  • Cozy: DIY reflectix
  • Spoon: Lexan probably from REI (I got it in 6th grade)
  • Silicone Mug Guard: Hot Lips from SnowPeak
  • Pack Towel: Old chamois from Dad (seriously the thing is older than me)

cook-kit

Cook kit (see above)

Food Storage

food-bag-and-bear-line

Dry sack and bear line

Tools and Toiletries


You will note that my toiletries kit contains nothing involved directly in the activity of urination or defication. That is because the idea of digging through your toiletry bag for some hand sanitizer after pooping in a hole in the ground and brushing up against your toothbrush should make your insides turn into your outsides. Seriously. Norovirus is a thing. And the way you avoid it is by not smearing poo on the things you put in your mouth.

Side note: Sawed-off toothbrushes drive me positively insane! Why would I want to shove my dirty fingers down my throat to try and clean my mouth? And those little travel ones where the brush collapses into the handle are like some petri dish from hell. I will be using a real-person toothbrush (I may even get a new one every three months like you’re supposed to).

Tools

  • Lighter: Minibic
  • Knife: Opinel no.6
  • Compas: Old Silva from Dad
  • Headlamp: Old one from L.L.Bean
  • Whistle: Haverford Public Safety (I still remember the song…)

Documentation

  • Notebook: Write in the rain
  • Pencil: Standard No. 2
  • Map: AWOL guide

Toiletries

  • Toothbrush: Regular stiff bristled one from the supermarket (no I did not saw off the handle)
  • Toothpaste: Arm and Hammer 1.1oz
  • Ear Plugs: The orange ones from the hardware store
  • Comb: Sawed-off

First Aid


I’m a certified Wilderness EMT through NOLS and it took all of my willpower to not bring a 2lb first aid kit. Part of backpacking light is being comfortable with your knowledge, ability to problem solve, and improvise in emergency situations. We’ll see how it goes. I have a box with a bag-valve mask, pre-natal kit, six splints, and more steri-strips than God waiting to be mailed should I feel the need for my safety blanket.

And yes. I will be using 100% DEET. It is one of the only fluids with actual scientific evidence saying it wards off mosquitoes and my sodium intake alone (not to mention sun, general fatigue, physical wear and tear, and inhaled dust) over the next six months will be far more carcinogenic than a few milliliters of N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide.

  • Sunscreen
  • Body Glide
  • 100% DEET
  • Lip Balm
  • Actual Medical Stuff: Gloves, benedryl, ibuprofin, immodium, neosporin, steri-strips, needle/thread, nail clippers, , razor blade, tweezers, irrigation syringe, moleskin
med-kit

Med kit

Poop Kit


See above for my diatribe on defecation. I will be bringing hand sanitizer. The idea that a nonspecific bactericidal agent is somehow evolving a superbug just does not make scientific sense. Don’t get me wrong, antibiotics are absolutely artificially selecting resistant strains of bacteria-borne illnesses. But ethanol works by washing entire cells, shriveling membranes, and denaturing every protein it comes into contact with. It also is a nearly instantaneous sanitizing process, meaning there is no prolonged exposure to the stressor to promote selective evolution in the first place. The argument that hand sanitizer breeds super bugs is like saying if the entire human race went camping at Chernobyl, eventually we could breed spiderman.

That being said. I’m still bringing soap.

  • Trowel: Original orange picked up near Olympic National Park
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Bandana: Random sea-foam green one
  • Mesh Bag: From REI
  • Dr. Bronner’s (currently sitting in my shower)
poop-kit

Poop kit!

Clothing (Worn)


Everything that will be on my skin. I’ll be using Chacos to hike in. I’ve never found a shoe with a toe box I find comfortable. Plus I think they give you a sick tan (even though I’ll be wearing socks). I’m starting with the Pro version which has stickier soles. We’ll see how they stand up.

  • Shirt: Thrift Store Synthetic button-down
  • Shorts: 1″ inseam from BOA
  • Socks: From Darn Tough
  • Sandals: Chacos Pro (stickier soles)
  • Poles (w/ Duck Tape)
  • Sun Hat: Old baseball cap from the hat drawer at home

 

Electronics


I will be bringing a phone that will also double as a camera. My parents insisted on me bringing a personal locator beacon. My assumption is that they want to make sure I’m actually hiking the trail and not just living on a beach somewhere working on catching some gnarly curls for six months. They are patient and supportive people, but only to a point.

  • Phone: iPhone7
  • Charger: 2USB port from Anker
  • Battery: From Anker
  • Headphones
  • Phone Case: LifeProof
electronics

Electronics (iPhone not shown)

Consumables


Food, fuel, water. At any given time I’ll be carrying around 1.5lbs of food per day, 7oz of fuel, and 1L of water. There will be places where this will be more. There will be places where this will be less. It will always feel heavier than it should.

Planning the Hike: Battling my Neuroses

When I first started to plan for the trail, in my heart I wanted my through hike to be this beautiful, organic, granola-and-quinoa-fueled commune with nature. My mind quickly told my heart to get it’s head out of the sand and eventually I came to my senses.

The first inklings of an AT attempt made themselves known over a year ago. Growing up in Maine in an outdoorsy family, I had known about the AT since childhood, but I never imagined I’d have the time or drive to actually shoot for a through hike. But last February my two year position was coming to a close and I was sick and tired of living in a workplace that didn’t have windows. Instead of doing the reasonable thing and just getting a job that involved some level of fenestration, I figured I would go roll around in the woods for six months. My initial thoughts were ones of come-what-may optimism and a general sense of “if I stay positive and healthy everything will just work out.”

Then I remembered what it was I was trying to do. My goal was to haul myself over two thousand miles with everything I needed strapped to my back. Historically, only a small percentage of hikers who set out on the AT make it the whole way, and I lack the existing skill set, physique, and luck to make it through without doing an ungodly amount of pre-planning.

The next nine months were spent working on a farm while I read everything I could, played with my existing gear, did an unhealthy level of research on gear I did not yet have, and took several shakedown hikes to get my body and my stuff dialed in.

I’m not going to write out everything I consulted (we don’t even know if the knowledge gleaned will pay off yet), and I’m certainly not qualified to reiterate anything I have learned with any sense of authority.

I’ll post what’s in my pack to start out once I get everything organized. As it stands it’s all just in one ungodly heap in the basement.

Doin’ It

(Read like Nicolas Cage in National Treasure)

I’m gonna hike the Appalachian trail (breathes through nose).

Why? Because I’ve spent my whole life pooping into porcelain vessels and I feel like, in these climatactically uncertain times, it’s good to give back to nature.

Butt seriously, my level of excitement cannot be expressed in mere words. Actually, scratch that. I’m sure there are words that communicate the quality of my enthusiasm, but I’m having a hard enough time remembering to exhale after I inhale let alone susessfully navigate the English language.

Now that I have informed the world of my plans, I need to actually go and plan this thing out a bit. I’ll be back, but right now I’m in the middle of finalizing my pack orientation (always amass the rest of your gear before you decide what it will be crammed into) and the decisions are literally killing me. I need to go lie down.