Advice for the beginner hiker on the Appalachian Trail

An excellent WordPress entry from my friend Joe, who is presently section hiking the AT down in Virginia.

Advice for the beginner Hiker on the Appalachian Trail.

“Catch-Up’s” long walk summer 2012   by Joe Niemczura, RN, MS

The Dawn of Time:

I have backpacked since joining the Boy Scouts ( 1966) and many of the things that I take for granted seem to fade into my own psyche until I see somebody else struggling with the obvious elements of how to have a successful trip. Yes, folks, at present I am old and fat, but I still know how to have a good time and to feel comfortable when hiking….. I suppose this is because I have had my share of terrible camping experiences, and learned from each time.


On this present trip, I got up close and personal with a few hikers that were totally new to this sport. I could have stayed my distance, experiencing the schadenfreude of their trip, but I tried to be useful without being too directive. I do have some advice, before you go.


First and foremost, if you have never backpacked, be advised that this is more than just a walk in the woods, especially if it is for a multi-day trip where you land in a different spot each evening. you need to deal with weather, terrain, your own physical conditioning, how much to put in the pack, minor injuries/stresses/strains, nighttime critters etc. For a beginner, I recommend the book “How to hike the A.T. = the nitty gritty details of a long distance hike” by Michelle Ray. This is a good introduction to the wide variety of problems and situations you will encounter, written in a readable style.


One thing I found myself saying to a few of the beginners I met this week, was that to take a hike on the Appalachian Trail is akin to joining a cult. There are certain practices and etiquette that are followed. All the equipment that is used is specialized, more than you would think. So – among other things, if you get new stuff such as a backpacker’s stove or a water filter, make sure you have gotten it out of the box and learned how to use it before the actual hike. when you plan a menu, try the recipes at home so you will know what to expect.

Resist the urge to buy buy buy:

When you first go out, you will get a lot of new stuff. soon you will discover that you didn’t actually need half of it! what you put in the pack is what you will carry. for example, if you are going on a seven day trip you do not need seven pairs of underwear. all you need is two – the one you are wearing, and the other pair which you wore yesterday and which has now been washed and is hanging on your pack to dry. two most important pieces of equipment: 1) boots get them two sizes larger than your usual shoe size. 2) hip strap on the backpack. the weight of the pack should never be on the shoulders. 3) nowadays I would add a third: hiking poles.

You are not conquering the wilderness:

You are living in a different sense of harmony with natural elements.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint:

I met two guys from a church group who said that the first day, they chose the same pace they had trained on using a treadmill at 24-hour fitness – i.e., fifteen-minute miles. four miles per hour. at that rate they could have gone ten miles in 2 1/2 hours. oooooh nooooo….. after a half hour with packs going up hill these two newbies told me they flopped to the ground and figuratively, died. Then they had the good sense to laugh at themselves and ask what were we thinking? they recalculated a new pace. and got over their pride. for me? I plan on 1.25 miles per hour ( including breaks). On those occasions when I go 1.75 miles per hour with a pack, I know I am zooming along!

Things never to bring:

an axe. too heavy

frying pans or kitchen cook ware. also too heavy anything that is heavy.

an expensive folding knife. you generally shouldn’t expect to be gutting any deer on a backpacking trip……

likewise, leave the “heat” home. the ammo is too heavy!

a folding chair. yes, it’s been done. you can sit on a rock or a tree stump or a log. trust me.

any food that is half liquid such as canned beans. or, canned food in general.

soap. some people will shudder at this. trust me. there are alternative ways to clean stuff.

more utensils than, say, one cup. you don’t need a separate plate for each person.

things to always bring: the ten essentials, as defined by The Mountaineers in their classic book, The Freedom of the Hills. ( actually, the ten essentials omits toilet paper, so it should really be eleven essentials….) always bring a good attitude and team spirit.

Know that this is a team event: When you go with a group, or just one special partner, this is an intense interpersonal experience for the two of you, and lifetime bonds get forged. I have always been very particular about who I will take with me, and have been fortunate to find such legendary partners as Gummi Bear, Whoopie Pie, Snafu, and Sam Gamgee. You have a responsibility to your team, you can never be alone. think about this. meditate on it.

It’s a terrain sport like golf:

Yhe A.T. for example, is famous. There is a nationwide community which knows every spot on the Trail just as intimately as the viewing public knows the Augusta National. Strategy plays a part in a successful hike. There are days when the only logical thing to do is to wait for the weather to clear; there are days when calculated risks are taken by experienced hikers that would be dangerous for a less experienced person. for that reason, you can’t lock yourself into a pre-set benchmark of mileage per day, or try to be competitive about it.

The last thing:

When you are on the Trail, be friendly to all you meet. that is what life is about, and hiking is a reflection of real life.

June 24, 2012 at 10:05 am


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Long Daylight= Doubling outdoor motion

I am up before 5 AM , so it was easy to try and beat the humidity and heat today by walking the road for 4.7 miles. Enjoyed a breakfast of local blueberries, strawberries, granola, and whole milk yogurt.
Rode a one hour loop this afternoon with Andy Hazen, who was back home from the Tour Divide, after his hard riding race week was curtailed by a 25 MPH crash down onto a gravel road resulted in broken ribs, an elbow that required stitching, bruised hip, and damaged shoulder. He had been 6 days without a bicycle ride and was feeling the need to take a spin, so we took it easy. Once he was on the bike, he left me on the uphills, just like usual.

I plan to interview Andy about his adventure tomorrow.  Anybody have questions you want asked?

Tim Noakes on the Serious Problem of Overhydration in Endurance Sports | Outside Magazine’s Articles |

Personal Note: I’ve had two friends diagnosed with hyponatremia.  Both required hospitalization.  One was told that he was just hours away from going into intractable seizures.  This is nothing to fool around with. If untreated, both could have died.  People have died in marathons from drinking too much water.  This book is now on my “must read” list.

“The idea that you should drink ahead of thirst is absolutely nonsensical. As I’ve said, we’ve evolved from other creatures. We don’t need to be told when to drink. They regulated their fluid purely by thirst. So why should humans be different from every other creature on earth to be told when and how to drink? The reality is you don’t need to be told when and how much to drink. We have a 300 million year developed system that tells you with exquisite accuracy how much you need to drink and when you need to drink. It’s called thirst.”  via Tim Noakes on the Serious Problem of Overhydration in Endurance Sports | Outside Magazine’s Articles |

Ragged Mountain excels in Mountain Biking options

Check the steep shoulders at the start and end of this elevation profile of yesterday’s bike ride and realize that it takes place up and down a mountain. 20120617-054840.jpgThe Camden (ME) Ragged Mountain/ Snow Bowl is busting out with new trails that my friend Craig pointed out to me yesterday. We rode for two hours on what could be the finest weather of the summer so far- low humidity, cool temps, and relatively dry conditions. I loved the new start out of the parking lot that went over to the far right ski run. It wove its way up to the first plateau in a twisting, but more switch-backed manner, taking better advantage of the terrain.
I have been discouraged recently about my lack of fitness on some of these intense rides, but that was all put to rest on this ride. Riding the Pugsley, I had my best day ever at the Bowl. I felt invincible!
Once up onto the big flat, we rode the new trail out past Massey Falls, over to Chris’ Trail, down the Abyss, up over and down Jason’s Trail, back over to the start of World Cup, then along a whole new section of downhill merging back onto lower World Cup and out.

Looking forward to pamphlets or maps of all the excellent trails that are gracing this gem of a biking park.

Shout outs to John Anders who is a key shaker and mover in expanding the recreational bicycling ( and hiking) opportunities in the Midcoast area and to Snow Bowl director Jeff Kueller for his management decisions. I also thank all the volunteers who are working hard to build and maintain these trails.
Next up: Ragged Mtn Fat Tire Festival , the weekend of July 14-15.

Rewarding Mud Ride

Me and the Pugs hit pools of black water that came up to the hubs on this ride. The shot is crap, but I got something.  The deep pools that I had gone through took to much of my effort and escaping the horrendous cloud of mosquitoes made photography an afterthought.

In normal years, the mud on this ride is dried up by mid June. Not this year. It rained 3-4″ in one day here recently, and the mud on the North side of Moody Mountain is still as bad as it gets.  Even so, I really enjoyed my  solo ride today.  Here’s the extra twist- elevation-

There are three climbs on this loop:  the first shaded section is the steepest- leaves High Street and goes up Moody Mountain Road, then a short downhill onto the French Road South to dip under a gate and climb steadily and more gradually to the highest point on the ride.  A long downhill follows, with the low point the mud pools that normally are ridable when they dry up.  Then weaving along abandoned ancient roads to the Muzzy Ridge Road where I pick up the access  up over a huge blueberry field down a mucky abandoned road to High Street and home to complete the loop. Here is a photo taken from a helicopter ride some time ago of this field.  The vertical road to the right of the photo is where I rode up and over to get home. I was able to get the bike under the hose before the mud dried onto it, but washing myself off was a bit challenging, as our hot water heater died a couple of days ago and has not been replaced yet.  So cold shower, after a Maine ride, and I’m a better man for it all.

If anyone wants to go up with me sometime and get down and dirty, they are welcome.  I don’t expect any takers !

Apple, Google Just Killed Portable GPS Devices | Autopia |

Report of an article in Wired.

I have been using my iPhone 4s for months now on all my hikes, and bike rides, and am pleased with it’s GPS capability.  While I have not even turned on my dedicated Garmin in that time, I am concerned about battery life of an iPhone on a longer trips.  Other winners will be the aftermarket battery, and battery back vendors as this plays out.  Hell, who even needs a laptop?  Days go by when I can access everything I need from my iPhone. This is gonna be good!

Read the complete article here: via Apple, Google Just Killed Portable GPS Devices | Autopia |

TD’12 Race- Where’s Andy Hazen?

I DK, no one does.

It appears that Andy’s Spot device has not transmitted properly since 6/9/ AM ( yesterday), so we don’t know where he is right now.  You can’t call him, and he can’t call us right now, but we know that at last report, he was in the middle of the pack.

Updates and discussions about the race are on on the list serve that one can follow. TD’12 Race Discussion. <<–Click this link to get there, and view three pics from what looks like Elk Pass.  Andy had told me that he pushed his bike 4 miles through the snow on his ride up to Banff, so he is familiar with the whole route up through the US Border.

One pic reflects the fresh snow that fell there yesterday.

Morning on this year’s Tour Divide

Go Andy!