Last year I failed in my attempt to see a rare yellow lady slipper. My pal Georgia Peach was going to take me, but then she lost track of where they were. Then, when she finally rediscovered them, I had taken off to the Black Sea on a Danube River cruise. Alas, by the time I was back stateside, the girls had faded away.
This year I was determined to see one. Georgia Peach promised to take me again, but she went off on a well-deserved beach vacation. So, I went to Stone Heart, intrepid hiking companion and friend. I hiked to Nimblewill Gap on the AT Approach Trail. I met Stone Heart there, and we hiked north on a gloomy, foggy morning. Soon we found a single perfect YLS kissed by a delicate coat of dew, lemony yellow in the sunless morning light. I had that little thrill one feels upon finally sighting that which they have sought for years.
Feeling triumphant and a bit smug, I hiked back to Nimblewill, chatted briefly with Stone Heart and headed southward on the Approach Trail. Later, Stone Heart reported that right after I left he spotted a bear and followed it for a photo. He immediately discovered seven more yellow lady slippers. Darn the luck!
Oh, well. I finally saw one. Next year, I will travel back to see more. During the interval, I will think up some other species of flora or fauna I need to see. Life is more fun when you have things to look for, don’t you think?
Far be it from this writer to assume my opinion is worth listening to. But I have hiked the AT a couple of times, and I do have some gentle advice. After talking to hundreds of Katahdin aspirants over the years, I have learned what the fictional Springer Mtn. caretaker in my book, THRU: An Appalachian Trail Love Story, realized: “the only certainly in his mind was the uncertainty of eventual outcomes.”
In other words, as you watch the traveling circus move north, good luck if you think you can keep an accurate scorecard.
So, for what it’s worth, here are a few nuggets of advice if you are considering taking the last great American adventure in 2019 or beyond:
- Before you take a first step, get serious about what is essential in your pack. Do you really need a hunting knife in a leather sheath? Do you need a bulky, multi-piece cookset? Is your pack one of those nine-pound super-padded numbers with so many surplus cubic inches that you can’t resist filling them with electronics and food that will take you days past your next resupply point? Remember the scene in the movie Wild where Reese Witherspoon puts on her pack for the first time and has trouble standing up? Don’t let that be you. Good grief, I met a man recently who was about to take his first steps on the Approach Trail with 160 pounds of gear including a one-liter bottle of vanilla extract.
- Stay hydrated. If you start your day with a liter and a half, that is the smartest weight you will carry. And you can reduce the weight quickly by drinking — even if you are not particularly thirsty. Do not wait to hit camp to rehydrate. Some of the worst trail days I have endured were due to not taking my own %$#@ advice and getting dehydrated.
- Take care of your feet. On the first day of your hike, promise me that you are wearing trail runners or boots that you have broken in with up-and-down trail-weight hiking. Otherwise, you are walking into unknown territory which may include grotesquely damaged feet. In THRU, my Captain Stupid character says this about his feet: “FEMA should be called in for this, plus the Air National Guard and a MASH unit of podiatrists and surgeons and EMTs. I cry when I look at what just two days have done. Blisters began on the Approach Trail to Springer. They demanded immediate attention, but I was so overwhelmed that instead of giving them first aid, I just kept slogging along and hoped for the best.” The Captain got help and survived, but his experience was not typical. Treat your feet better than any other part of yourself.
- Stay dry. A pack cover will not keep the contents of your pack dry if you hike through a blinding rain storm that switches on and off for a couple of days. Anything you really want to keep dry should be in ziplock bags which weigh practically nothing and can save your sanity.
- Leave No Trace. If you’re out there, you’ve heard the LNT pitch. If you are a human being, you leave urine and feces in your wake. Remember that nobody — at least nobody normal — wants to see any of that. Bury crap off-trail at least 200 feet away from water sources and camping areas. Also, pack out hand-wipes, uneaten food and general trash. I know most of you don’t need to hear this, but problems still exist.
- Give it time! If the first couple of days out there are the worst days of your entire life, don’t stop. Give it a couple of weeks. It will get better. You will finally reach a moment of joy that will transport you to levels of transcendence you never dreamed possible. Just be patient.
As I say, I have done the AT a couple of times and I’ve hiked all over the world. I am an ordinary guy with average physical gifts. If I could do it, so can you. Have fun!
Oh, how I love sustainability and alternative energy. So it stands to reason I have to love the “Above the Grid” program we recently kicked off at the Len Foote Hike Inn. I’ve been hanging around the AT and the AT Approach Trail for years. And for nearly 20 years, I have been associated with the Len Foote Hike Inn — just one mile off the Approach Trail. We have pushed solar hot water heating for our bath house, solar photovoltaics for our Sunrise Room, rainwater catchment to water our native plants, composting toilets to conserve more than 200,000 gallons of water each year, worms to eat our waste paper and food scraps, a composting cube to dispose of other waste and a number of other practical technologies we use every day to save water and energy and to reduce pollution. That’s one reason we proudly wear Gold-level designation from the U.S. Green Building Council, among other honors.
“Above the Grid” takes us a big step farther down the sustainability path. Thanks to a grant from All Points North Foundation, a loan from the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority and installation by the experts at Radiance Solar, we are now using state-of-the-art photovoltaics to supply more than two-thirds of our electricity needs. We are still looking at ways to use improving battery technology to boost the percentage of power. And we are doing all this in a practical and sustainable way. Guests who visit the Hike Inn learn that solar power is a practical and economical alternative to the conventional power grid. I’m not bad mouthing utility companies. Heck, I spent a career in the oil and gas business. I’m just saying that sustainability is coming. The Hike Inn is a great example of how it can happen.
Our new solar display — cleverly mounted on an actual photovoltaic panel — tells the story of our new solar project. Hike up to the Hike Inn to see it. Check http://www.hike-inn.com for details on how to make a reservation. Stay vertical and keep walkin’!