I chose to start my Appalachian Trail Flip-Flop hike in Harper’s Ferry, WV, for a couple different reasons. Mainly, I didn’t want to contribute to the overcrowding on the trail in the southern states. The terrain is easier in Maryland than it is in Georgia, and given that I haven’t trained as much as I hoped to, I wanted to ease into the hike. Lastly, the timing worked out well. I can take it slow while I build up my trail legs.
While many people spend years planning their hikes on the Appalachian Trail, I only had a short two months to really figure things out. I actively decided not to do a shakedown hike (a couple day backpacking trip to test out new gear) and instead allow myself the first week to really figure everything out. I’m pleased with that decision, and luckily, don’t have any major gear issues so far.
The decision to start an Appalachian Trail Vlog was an easy one. What better way to share the good and bad of this journey with you?
For all my nerves leading up to my departure date, it went very smoothly. I was nervous on the way to the airport, and the thought of saying goodbye to Angel for such a long period of time had me sick to my stomach. But I walked through security with one last wave, and almost immediately boarded my flight.
Two flights later and I was in DC. It’s pretty clear I’ll have to visit another time, I only had a short couple hours to wander around the National Mall. I stared out the window my entire train journey to Harper’s Ferry, then started up a conversation with a fellow flip-flopper as we headed to the Teahorse Hostel.
The only reason I chose the Teahorse Hostel was because of the included waffle breakfast. If anything, I knew a couple waffles in the morning would ease my anxiety. But I wasn’t anxious. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy opened right as I arrived, and I got my photo taken for their books.
And then a short blue blaze trail, and I saw my first white blaze. I was finally on the Appalachian Trail!
I told myself from the beginning, I wasn’t going to push myself to a point of injury. So why did I decide to hike 13 miles to Pine Knob Shelter? I was still on an AT high, and even though it was raining, I was happy to be hiking. Much happier than I would have been setting up my tent in the rain and being stuck inside it until the sun went down.
Already on day two, I was paying attention to what items I needed, and what I didn’t need. I already didn’t want to prepare a warm meal in the evening, and since the first night, I have yet to pull out my stove and cook.
For days one and two being so perfect (even in completely opposing weather conditions) day three was when I finally started to understand the roller coaster of emotions that a hiker can go through. What was supposed to be an easy eight mile day turned me into a ball of stress and emotions that I couldn’t control. I whimpered over the rocky bits (knowing it would get rockier in PA) and cried when I finally made it to the road crossing a quarter mile from Ensign Cowall Shelter.
After deliberating with two fellow hikers, Chardonnay and Vice, the best course of action after a couple wet days seemed to be a Days Inn in Waynesboro, PA. Yes. This was incredible, but a little weird to be back to civilization after only a couple days on the trail. We resupplied, dried our gear, and enjoyed some Game of Thrones while we could.
Two days ago I was so sure I wouldn’t make it very far on the trail. On day five, I was so happy. I had hiked across an entire state (Maryland) and it felt good to be moving on a sunny day. I found myself arriving pretty early to Tumbling Run Shelter, one of the nicest shelters I think I will ever find on the AT. The privy smelled of “new car”.
Wait, another nice shelter? Pennsylvania, you spoil me. This was, unfortunately, the first day where I was in physical pain. I was moving fast, but oh gosh! My achilles, my legs! They ached so much.
This was the day when I had to remind myself, I was going to be meeting some hikers who do not actually care about nature on the trail. When a fellow hiker said “I pet a baby deer” my jaw dropped in disbelief. Never, never, never do that!
Lessons from One Week on the Trail
Physically, I know I’ve a few weeks to go until I really have my trail legs, but already, I found myself moving with a bit more quickness by the end of the week. My biggest physical worries at the beginning (shin splints, ankle instability) have become less of an issue, but have been replaced by a bigger concern. On day six, I started suffering from achilles tendinitis, which has been getting worse as the days go on.
Gear-wise, I’m so freaking happy. I didn’t want to do a gear review post at the beginning, since I wasn’t sure if things would change. But aside from a couple minor things (I’m saying goodbye to my stove and sleeping bag liner), there isn’t anything I want to change.
Mentally, gosh, it’s been tough. The struggle is real guys! I thought reading Appalachian Trials (affiliate link) would prepare me for the mental uphills and downhills that I would encounter as a hiker, but it was still hard to get through. On the bad days (especially day three) I gave myself pep talks and sang along to Disney songs to get me further down the trail. On the good days, I floated down the trail like nothing was wrong. Gotta keep reminding myself, don’t quit on a bad day.
I’ve met some really awesome people, who I usually only see at a shelter or two before they move on (everyone is faster than me). And I’m already feeling more confident in my abilities as a backpacker, which is one of the goals of my hike.
Stay tuned for week two, where I spend half my time zero-ing (already) to nurse my achilles.