Hi folks, and sorry for the delay in this posting. It’s been two weeks since I returned from my thru-hike practice run. Work has been busy and our laptop was stolen from our home so I haven’t had the time or the means to write this until now.
Let me begin by saying the trip was not what I thought it would be at all. I covered over 85 miles in six days, starting a few days south of I-90 and Snoqualmie Pass, and finishing at Highway 2 just six miles east of Skykomish.
I like to call my first three days the “paying my dues” portion of the trip. The first two night I was out I hid in my tent while thunder, lightning and hail pounded the forest around me. I stayed dry thanks to my REI Quarterdome tent, but I didn’t get much sleep. During the day I popped in and out of clear-cuts along the trail, the sight of which gave me a new appreciation for the work environmentalists and preservationists do on our behalf.
Insects had their way with me as well. I’ve always thought that mosquitos weren’t interested in me, but those previous bugs must’ve been well-fed Bellevue types. The mosquitos I ran into on the trail were like third world jungle gorillas! They were even biting me through my long sleeves and pants!
The lesson I learned from my first three days on the trail: I was carrying too much food. The extra weight was making the trip harder than it needed to be, so when I connected with Lane on Day 3/4 I shed all the food that I didn’t absolutely need for the next section of the hike.
This next section was supposed to be a 70+ mile, six day trek. But at the end of Day 4, after leaving my family at I-90 and hiking fifteen miles, I knew I wasn’t going to make it six days without seeing them again. I made the decision to take a detour that would get me to Highway 2 sooner, and I decided that I needed to hike longer and farther to get out of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness quicker.
I woke up sometime between two and three in the morning on Day 5 and started my hike in the dark with my headlamp lighting my way. Those few hours hiking in the dark were physically and emotionally exhausting. I had to lift my feet higher to ensure I didn’t trip on any unseen rocks or roots, and my mind was constantly alert to, and fearful of, the potential for bears in the area. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to see a sunrise.
I hiked over twelve hours on Day 5 and made camp on the shore of an enormous alpine lake. I had hiked over twenty-five miles, gaining and losing thousands of feet in altitude and enduring hours without water. I can safely say that my legs and feet hurt more than they ever have in my life. Have you ever been so sore and tired that talking to yourself was the only way you could keep moving? When every step brings a whimper that you have to stamp out with your will or risk breaking down completely? That was me, I’m sorry to say. After eating a very early dinner I was so tired I didn’t even bother to hang my food up as a prevention against bears. I just packed up, lay down in my tent, and fell asleep.
I awoke on Day six at a more reasonable hour, probably around seven in the morning, and purposefully took my time making breakfast and packing up for the day. I planned to take it easy and give my body a rest. But after looking at the map and studying the distances I realized that if I pushed myself again, I could reach Highway 2 by that evening.
I decided to wait until a junction at Deception Pass, fifteen miles from my camp, to make a decision on how hard I would push. I reached Deception Pass at about three in the afternoon and pulled out my map again. Ten miles from Highway 2, with maybe five hours of good light left. Two miles per hour. That is about my normal hiking speed, and the thought of seeing my family again eased my pain and gave me the courage and strength to decide to push for the rendezvous.
As I mentioned a moment ago, two miles per hour is my normal hiking speed. What I didn’t count on was just how sore and tired I was. A distance that should have taken me less than five hours ended up taking over six. After covering sixty-five miles in three days, including a second day of 25+ miles (that’s essentially two marathons back-to-back, with elevation and a pack) I reached Highway 2 in the dark and on the verge of weeping. My feet were in agony; my left heel still hurts two weeks later. Mentally, I was a wreck. I hitched a ride into Monroe and met Lane at a McDonald’s, where I devoured a Big Mac meal in less than two minutes.
At this point I honestly don’t know if I still want to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail; the practice run was no fun at all. I know for certain that I am not going to hike the AT the traditional way. I don’t want to be away from my family for days at a time and I don’t have the patience for a slow, six-month trek. If this trip takes place next year it will be much faster than the average thru-hike: A day-pack and 25-30 miles per day, meeting up with my family each night. Maybe a small overnight bag on occasion when necessary.
It’s all going to be about speed.