The Shakeout: Hiking the Appalachian Trail, Part I

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Hi there, readers! Can you believe that October is on the doorstep?

I wanted to post this piece two weeks ago, but have been delayed. A nasty stomach virus swept through campus this week, taking down faculty and students. I was one of her victims. It’s been interruptions like a stomach bug that have caused me to realize yet again that sometimes my plans don’t play out the way I intend.

Anyways, I’m glad to be back and to continue the narrative about my backpacking travels in July. In my last post I told you what I packed for my backpacking adventure, but I haven’t told you why I went in the first place. That’s for this time.

It was Brad who suggested backpacking.

Last year, we experienced our first taste of an empty nest—Jake away at college; Anna away in England. It didn’t take long for us to realize that we needed to find activities that we enjoyed together as we entered this new season of marriage. Already, we saw how easy it was to do our own thing, even as we lived under the same roof. We didn’t want to end up like roommates.

Since I first met Brad, I knew he loved backpacking. His sister and brother-in-law took him on a trip to the Upper Peninsula as a college graduation gift. (I wanted a watch when I graduated from college.) They hiked in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and braved the freezing cold temperatures of Lake Superior in May. When Jake and Anna were little, he took them on trips, individually and sometimes together. As a family, we backpacked for three nights in Big Bend National Park during one Spring Break. Since moving to the Northeast, Brad has been section-hiking parts of the Appalachian Trail during the summer months. Each spring, I can count on him to start brainstorming and planning his next trip. After his hike of 2017, he came off the trail wondering: Is there a way I can convince Alicia to join me?

He knew I loved the outdoors and wasn’t afraid of physically-demanding challenges so he didn’t have to convince me on those two fronts. Really, the convincing didn’t take long. My list of “must haves” was short: hot coffee in the morning, a variety of foods, and sense of clean before I crawled into bed each night.

This last one was a biggie for me. Taking a shower and fixing my hair each morning defined my daily routine for years. It mostly still does, but somewhere along the way, I relaxed my standards. My breakthrough came during a family camping trip when I realized that I didn’t need to complete so many steps each day. Pulling my hair back into a ponytail was fine; wearing minimal makeup (or none at all) was okay. I’m sure this discovery also overlapped with my deepening comfort in my own skin. Also, I realized I didn’t care so much what others thought.

For this trip, baby wipes, along with some rubbing alcohol on a cotton swab, did the trick for wiping away the dirt and the smell well enough before crawling into bed each night. In the mornings, I rinsed my face and put my hair in ponytail, ready for another day.

As for the hot coffee and decent food requirements, Brad knew of many backpacking websites and hiker’s blogs that contained all sorts of advice and suggestions. For my coffee, I used Starbucks Via packets with a spoonful of dehydrated cream. Not the gross packets you find languishing in hotel rooms. This cream comes from a farm in Indiana and is the full-fat variety. While my coffee wasn’t the same as freshly ground beans, it was certainly passable and brought me comfort on a number of levels. For dinners, we purchased prepared backpacking meals. Going this route isn’t the cheapest option available, but we enjoyed a variety of dishes. One of my favorites was a Thai curry made by Good To-Go. I noticed many of the through hikers using Knorr mixes (or something like that) as a base for their dinners—certainly a more affordable choice for the long haul.

In all honesty, I wouldn’t have gone on this trip if Brad didn’t have the backpacking experience he had. I knew the level of detail and planning he put into his trips and I trusted him. But we both acknowledged that the section of trail we were hiking (“The Whites”) was considered strenuous and difficult. Before we left, we established a contingency plan. If the trip was too much for any number of reasons, we would call it quits. We also agreed that if I wanted to head home early Brad should feel free to continue solo.

We promised each other: No guilt trips.

We called our trip “The Shakeout.” Which is actually a real term hikers use. It’s a test run of sorts, to see what we could handle, and to see if we even wanted to complete a longer hike.

For Brad and me, this shakeout hike served two purposes: to find something we could do together as we entered this new stage of life, and to see if we might be able to do some longer hikes—maybe the John Muir Trail in California—all 210 miles of it. We needed to see if we were prepared for the demands of being on the trail for a longer stretch of time.

Together, Brad and I completed 9 days on trail and 70 miles. I had hoped to go 15 days, but I’ll have the rest of the story next time.

_____________

And, Some Other Stuff

Since school started at the end of August, life’s been full. Despite long days, I’ve still found some time for reading and listening to podcasts. Here are a couple of my favorites.

I finished the final and fourth book The Story of the Lost Child in the Neapolitan series by Elena Ferrante. I’m glad I read the entire collection, even if the last book was a bit disappointing. Writing good endings is hard. I can’t imagine bringing a series to a close that spans decades of a character’s life. The novel lost its way towards the end, dragging and wandering its way to the finish. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t recommend the series or that I’m not looking forward to the November 18 HBO premiere of My Brilliant Friend. The DVR will be set!

Over the summer I started to listen to Anne Bogel’s podcast What Should I Read Next. What a treat for readers. She interviews all sorts of people—authors, librarians, teachers, writers, and fellow readers. Her smooth voice and engaging manner make each episode a treat. My TBR list (books to be read) has grown exponentially since listening. Definitely worth checking out!

And, one last recommendation that might be perfect for your weekend. If you enjoyed reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Netflix turned it into a movie. Sounds like a lovely Friday or Saturday night to me!

Blessings, readers. 

 

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About aliciabrummeler

Writer, teacher, wife and mother. Lover of the good, the true, and the beautiful.
This entry was posted in Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Books to Read, Good Reads and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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