Day 4: Trade Offs

Appalachian Trail May 10, 2012 • 3 min read

Conditions: 70s, Mostly Sunny
Distance: 13.4 miles

Green Mountains of Georgia - Appalachian Trail

Each day is a new challenge. Maybe you're sore. Maybe you have miles to make up. Maybe the weather is bad. Maybe you wake up late. None of which factor in terrain, elevation, or distance you hike in a day.

But you have to keep moving forward. It's a game of steps. The Appalachian Trail is hard. You give it everything you got and it'll just take it. Try to push through and it'll push back. Think you're at the top of the mountain? The trail switches back for another quarter mile incline. Believe you hiked 2 miles. You've only hiked 1. In the end, all you can do is put one foot in front of the other and see how far you get before the sun goes down.

It reminds me of a quote by Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) in A League of Their Own.

It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.

Each day comes down to distance. And I learned today sometimes you're not going to make the distance. There are trade offs. Sometimes you can't go another 2 miles. It takes planning. Not the plan I made at home before on the trail. The real plan. One adjusted almost hourly. You set goals and do your best to keep them. While not killing yourself, but still making miles. Life is much the same. The trail is no different.

I spent most of the day with the father/son group I met on Day 3. The father's trail name is “Sidewinder” and the son's “Beast”. Today they were mostly ahead of me. I appreciated the company. I planned the day out to reach Cheese Factory. I wanted to reach Tray Mountain shelter. It was another 2.2 miles. But there was too much elevation change. Four mountains today. They formed a W. All the way up. All the way down. Do it again. Also the sun was out. Which was welcome, but made it hot. I might have been able to push myself. But at what cost? It likely would have been after dark and I could have pushed too hard. Plus I knew I could camp with others at Cheese Factory. I still haven't spent the night alone. At this point, I don't think I want to.

I'm far enough along the trail now that I see familiar faces each day. There's the father/son group – “Sidewinder” and “Beast”. Together they have a similar pace to my own. “Beast” could likely hike 18 miles in a day. But Sidewinder hikes around 12 comfortably. There is a two man group of runners – “Runner” and “Speedy”. When they “feel like it” they will run part of the trail. They hike ultra-light – with packs around 15lbs. I'm jealous. There is a group of four college kids. They are all thru-hikers that banded together on their first day. Three guys and a gal. Only two have trail names – “Red Fox” and “Cloud”. They seem to hike what they feel. Sometimes only a few miles and other times many miles.

While I typically hike alone, I'll see these hikers at lunch, in passing, and at the end of the day to camp. A lot of hikers went into Helen, Georgia today. It was the first major town on the trail. I didn't want to go. Honestly, I was worried I wouldn't come back. The whole point of my trip is to be out here. Out in the wilderness. Out of my comfort zone. I've almost gotten to the point when people talk about home or comfort or food, I leave the conversation. I need to keep my mind right.

I made another camp fire tonight. Probably a good thing. The heat of the day reminded me that I haven't showered. So the smoke was a good mask.

I'm going to bed a little early. I'd like to make up those miles tomorrow.

~ Bootstrapper – 0100

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