Newbie Trip Report-Hot Springs, NC to Erwin, TN AT

5:02 p.m. on June 21, 2016 (EDT)
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Hello Everybody! I thought I'd share my experience on a short 5 day trip hiking 70 miles on the AT with the goal to, basically, test all my hiking equipment in preparation for a thru-hike next year with my wife.  

The Good:

-very fun, met a few people.  The trail was not crowded during the hike.  I started Monday, May 20th and ended Friday, June 3rd.  

-learned A LOT.  Realized I made many mistakes that made the hike way harder than it should have been.  

-Mistakes- not taking care of feet, going too far, too fast, chafing and blister could have been avoided if I had been more thorough in preparation and prevention while out on the trail.

-equipment worked, but no rain so tent performance and use not completely tested (lightheart duo).

-dog did very good (he's not going on thru-hike).  Kept him on leash while walking and off-leash while camping with everyone's permission.  Dog stayed in tent on an old Army woobie.

The Bad:

-My lack of preparation for taking care of body.  Old running shoes gave me blisters, didn't buy bodyglide before trip and got chafed.  Liner of shorts rubbed heck out of my crotch area.

-I was in relatively good shape, but never did get my mountain legs in that short period of hiking.  I hear it takes 200 to 300 mile to get your trail legs.

-carried too much food and dog food.  The food back weighed 10 lbs. and the dog food weighed 5 lbs.; so, pack was 35 lbs. starting out which was too heavy.  I nervous packed too much food and too many clothes that I never used.

-Duh! I forgot to bring bug spray.  I looked like I'd gotten peppered with a shotgun by the end of the trip with bites I'd never seen before.  Either spider or chigger bites.  I just got chewed up.

 

Again, I learned a lot.  Keeping everything organized in my pack and in camp helped me start earlier in the morning for cooler hiking.  Water filter worked great (sawyer squeeze).  And, if I would have kept my socks clean and feet clean and prepped I would have saved the feet from looking like hamburger at the end in Erwin, TN.  Miles hiked per day were 11, 15, 15, 10, and 18; the last day being downhill most of the way.

Thank You for the site; I have leaned a lot by reading your site.

Chris

 

 

10:06 p.m. on June 21, 2016 (EDT)
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Great attitude, Chris. And you finished strong!

Sounds like you've made some solid mental notes for your next leg. I love a good after-action review!

8:18 a.m. on June 22, 2016 (EDT)
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I agree...great attitude. There is no way better to learn to backpack than getting out on the trail. Sounds like you prepared well and overpacked, which we all have done. Now you can begin to search for that pack weight that suits you best considering safety and comfort.

While it sounds like you brought a lot of food, consider keeping a day more than expected to need just to be safe...

9:01 a.m. on June 22, 2016 (EDT)
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These guys said it best. You have the perfect mindset. Get out there, do it, and learn. You my friend have done some learning. Im no expert, but as far as I see it, EVERY time you go out there is something to learn that will provide some sort of ease or comfort on your experience. Great job! Clothing is one thing I see A LOT of extra of. I take a "hiking outfit" and a "sleeping outfit" .  Food is the tough one. Its hard not to accumulate weight, because Phil is right. You want to prepare for an extra days worth of food regardless. Also, a hiker staple seems to be keeping to 100 calories per oz. This helps you keep weight down a tiny bit but also makes sure that youre getting somewhat sufficient calories. I try and eat two pounds a day, but i dont try and go more than three days without a food stop. 

9:40 a.m. on June 22, 2016 (EDT)
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Thank you for the replies.  I was so nervous about everything that I really didn't eat much those first two days, and the heat made me not so hungry either.  

Clothing- I carried what I considered emergency backup.  Synthetic long johns, puffy jacket, two pair of socks, and crocs.  All I wore was shorts and t-shirt.  Shopping and finding a new pare of hiking shoes or sturdy trail runners are a must for me as I am a little disabled in my knee and ankle.

Experience- I was new to hiking on the AT and lightweight hiking.  I did have experience in Army as infantry where you "hike" a lot on the side of roads with heavy weight in your rucksack. BUT, that was a long time ago.

Learning- the people I met were very giving of information.  I stated off the bat I was a newbie and asked if I could ask questions.  Everyone was very accommodating. 

Fire at the Shelters- with the warm weather we didn't need fires, but the fires sure kept the bugs off during the evening.

Smell- all the poisons and gross stuff just leaked out of me in the sweat.  I smelled sick and like I was burning off toxic waste, fat, and protein all at once.  My hygiene needs to improve out there so I can tolerate the smell of myself.

Food- when I finished I still had two pounds of food left and was not hungry.

I also enjoyed the hostel experience on Friday night.  We stayed at Uncle Johnny's in Erwin, and he let the dog sleep in the room (which I shared with one other person).

Reset- going to tinker with everything and hit the Shenandoah NP during July.

Chris

12:04 p.m. on June 22, 2016 (EDT)
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Get a pack for your dog and he can carry his stuff and some of yours. I think dogs are the best hiking companions except for people you are in love with.

Find some bug repellent for your all of your clothes.

There is lots of water on the AT.  Learn to use it more often to bathe. That will help with the chafe and skin irritation.

You are a thoughtful hiker and you can go as far as you want to.

12:18 p.m. on June 22, 2016 (EDT)
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Hahaha yes Chris, get used to the smell, or grow fond of cold running mountain water. Less stopping at a few swimming holes, brushing my teeth and wiping after the privy are about the only two real "hygienic" things i do out there. Its the clean hiker that you notice most. The dirty ones blend together :D and ppine is right... your dog can carry alot with the new packs they build today! Make sure to get a bear bell or some sort of deterrent before you hit SNP. I heard the bears are relentless down there this year. 

1:24 p.m. on June 22, 2016 (EDT)
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The food issue isnt the first. Most people learn on the AT they over pack for the first week. Your not the only one that has done that. If you plan to hike to Tinkers cliffs you should push through and see Macfees knob. Beware that Camping and  the shelter at Lamberts Meadow is closed do to bear activity...SNp will be another good shakedown for you. I would leave any winter gear home.temps are in the 90 's now.New trail runners will help.What socks are you using? 

2:28 p.m. on June 22, 2016 (EDT)
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Denis,

Darn Tuff socks; also, thinking about buying some liners as I have a terrible sweating problem.  Thank you for the heads up about Lamberts Meadow.  I have to buy a new guidebook; I gave mine away to the guy I hiked with the last two days of the trip.

Uriah, I bought a big water bag (sea to summit- 10L) for camp water and bathing and washing socks.  Dry- the bag packs up into nothing.

3:34 p.m. on June 22, 2016 (EDT)
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Sounds like you learned alot on your shakedown..Nice..knowing  your body is half the battle...Injin socks make a nice liner you might want to look into..They keep your toes seperate and from getting Blisters in between the toes...BTW you have an outstanding attitude...Your going to do well on your thru...I am with the Roanoke Trail Club and I just cooked a fresh meal for thru hikers  last week at one of the shelters for trail magic...Anything pops into your head just post...

6:00 p.m. on June 22, 2016 (EDT)
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Your insights about pace is not always one a lot of folks pick-up on right away...and EVERY new hiker takes off running down the trail like an insane person. There is nothing wrong with going fast...but when you are going far you should always try to maintain a pace (physical and mental) that will get you to the end of the trail.

I am not sure if you used trekking poles but I cannot recall having any blisters since using them...at least no memorable ones. I cannot say exactly how important they are since I was already practicing most of the foot care and hygiene I use today...but surely there is something to the fact that poles lessen impact with the ground and can shift weight away from tender spots.

I use the toe-socks for running and without them my feet are a bloody mess after 5 or 6 miles...but on the trail I find that any good-fitting synthetic or wool sock will do (its the fit that is super important for me...bunching at the seams and ends of the sock needs to be minimal).

I am really minimal about foot care in terms of what I bring (basically just body lube and leukotape)...but I lube my feet with a massage when I put my shoes on in the morning and anytime I take my shoes off and relax. I think most brands are anti-fungal and anti-bacterial...if not...don't buy it. I would also recommend bringing more of it than you think you will need...feet/arm-pits/crotch are the worst offenders...but there is a good chance you will have your own unique troublesome spot after a week or two of hiking everyday. I monitor my feet all the time...the slightest little irritation and I tape it the next time I take my shoes off.

If you're already using high-calorie and dehydrated foods the only other thing I can recommend is card/cash to exploit gas-stations + grocery stores + restaurants + camp-stores + liveries +etc. along the trail...I exploit these mercilessly for things like TP/batteries/cold drinks/food/etc...any shame I have is quickly forgotten when I think about my full belly.

For insects I really caution relying on bug-spray too heavily (the same goes for sun-screen). I do believe it helps and use it myself occasionally for my hands and feet in camp...but if you really want to protect yourself against insect bites you should treat your clothing with permethrin. The clothing you treat is probably more important than the treatment because neither DEET not Permethrin are anything approaching 100%...just noticeably effective. The clothing is not just for bugs either...as they are also a quick-drying layering piece. For myself I chose the lightest and best ventilated (because heat and bugs correlate)...LS nylon shirt I could find (Exofficio Reef-Runner)...and I purchased it large so that if a lady mosquito does manage to resist the repelling effects of Permethrin and get through the tight weave of the nylon shirt she still comes up dry at times. For my pants I chose the lightest pair of nylon trekking pants I could find (Mesa by Mountain Hardwear?)...and again I bought the pants with a loose fit to create dead-space. Finally...the lower body is much more likely to be bitten than your upper body...particularly around your ankles so treat your socks + gaiters + shoes with permethrin and try to find a synthetic sock with a tight weave to resist bites (bicycling socks work great).

10:14 p.m. on June 22, 2016 (EDT)
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Joseph,

Thank you for your detailed response.  I used trekking poles; I had to with my gimpy leg.  I hiked in an old pair of hoka one one trail shoes that have super thick soles but no insole.  So, my feet slid forward on the downhills due to no heel cup to keep the foot in place.  Hope I explained that right.  Add to that, I forgot to stop and get things right with my feet when hot spots developed.  So, hamburger feet at trail's end.  

The bug bites were along the right underarm, right side of chest, and under the right arm in the soft mushy part (which if I were in better shape wouldn't exist).  The bites were pustule filled but didn't itch; never seen that before.

After the hike I purchased leukotape, bodyglide, and the dr. bonners soap for my hygiene kit.  Also, I have started applying tincture of benzoin everyday to make the soles of my feet harder.

Finding the right shoe/ trail runner/boot in the next biggest obstacle.  I think the REI here in Richmond, VA, where I live, has a pretty good crew with AT thru-hiking experience; my intent is to use them to find a good shoe that I can return if thing don't work out with whatever model/brand.

Denis, 

All my blisters were on the outside of the pinky toe and in between the two toes next to the big toe.  So the five toe liners might be the answer.  Hope to see you on the trail!

Chris

12:45 p.m. on June 23, 2016 (EDT)
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Chris a little update for ya...The club bought 4 bear proof  containers...One is to go to Lamberts Meadow..Their saying Mid July...So it maybe open then...Happy Hiking...

November 21, 2019
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