Coming out here, to the AT, I was nervous. I was alone with my dog headed into the great unknown.
The trail is your teacher. No matter how much you know or what plan to gain from it, it is the trail which guides and provides for you.
I came onto the trail with a decent amount of trail knowledge already tucked into my back pocket. I understood how to make camp, hang a bear bag, cook food and respect leave no trace (LNT).
What I didn’t bring with me was a bottle of mace, a big knife, or an ego.
The first week was a learning curve as I rediscovered what legs can do (lots and lots of walking) and that it is possible to meet people and in the course of a day know you’ll be friends for a long time to come. In the same respect I’ve also met people and realized it was fine if they kept on walking.
As a person on the trail I feel no less equipped than any other person. There is a common phrase, hike your own hike (HYOH), which is repeated over and over again as a mantra. People can provide ideas, information, and experiences but it is up to you to accept them, or leave them, and move forward. Here are a few things which apply to me as a hiker, and a woman. MEN there may be more info than you are interested in knowing, than again it may provide you with a good conversation piece.
When it comes to hiking alone. Go. Do it. You will meet amazing individuals who will fill the space and you will no longer be “alone”. These remarkable people will become your “trail family” or contacts throughout your time on the trail. When predefined groups enter the trail they often interact amongst themselves and don’t reach far to make new connections
When you meet these wonderful folks on the trail do yourself and them a favor, don’t shake hands. During the first week on trail I offended more people by opting out of handshakes and here is why I opted out; having just left a privy I was headed for my tent to snag my hand sanitizer when someone asked for direction to the water source. I rattled them off quickly and was going to continue on when he introduced himself and offered a hand. I started to extend mine when I suddenly realized I hadn’t sanitized yet and withdrew my hand rapidly while explaining, “sorry, I just hit up the privy and haven’t cleaned up yet.”
The response was all I needed to know never shake a hikers hand. “That’s ok!”
I don’t touch hands with other hikers, I don’t reach into offered food bags, and I don’t accept food unless I’ve seen them pouring food from it. An elbow is the closest thing you’ll get to a fist bump from me.
The “trail diet” is a fascinating thing. You eat what you see, and anything else which crosses your path, bugs, dirt, etc. You will be counting calories but in a whole new way. When I pick an item up and the calories for a single serving are below 150 I tend to reconsider eating it. I want items where the calories are over 200 and I can make a hearty meal with over 1,200 calories. Despite this style of dieting I have dropped 30 pounds in the past 6 weeks. Town days are a thing of gluttony, double servings of pretty much any meal I order and ice cream is a must.
Now onto the good stuff!
Peeing in the woods isn’t all bad. I won’t lie, men have a distinct advantage when it comes to peeing in the woods UNLESS you are willing to step outside your comfort zone and give the Pstyle a go. I swear by this female urinary device.
There are numerous ones out there but I have heard this one has advantages, the urine doesn’t back up so it’s not a guessing game whether it is empty. BUT don’t think it’s all peaches and cream. This thing takes practice, some say best done at home, than again necessity pushes you to be more accurate. I have days which I label my 85% accuracy days. Yup, we all have a learning curve. These are laundry days. Days where I was in a rush or didn’t focus on the task at hand and ended up “leaking”. It’s ok, in my mind those days are few and far between.
The convience to be able to stand on the side of a mountain and take a moment to enjoy a “vista piss” and not worry about exposing myself to a crew above makes every learning curve worth it. Or the day I’d reached a mountain top before the rest of my group and sidled up behind a tree. Having just rinsed off the Pstyle I hear a cry “did I catch you pissing?! Because if I did you just made my day!” Glad his day was made…
Women, I know you are all thinking about the frustrations or concerns regarding menstruation while on the trail. Really it’s nothing. Yes it may require a little extra time to clean up but truth be told it’s simple. Options have changed and we are better informed. It is up to you how you want to manage while hiking, using either, pads, tampons, or the ever increasing in popularity, menstrual cup.
I hear concerns from women about how to pack out used items. Ziploc bags. Everyone has their own way, cover the bag in duct tape to strengthen it and keep items out of sight. Some use a coffee bag to store their ziplocs in, and toss a coffee bean in the bottom to cover perceived odors. Personally I don’t want to carry anything out and find the menstrual cup to be highly effective.
The concern about cleanliness and this are no different than any other situation, if your hands are in that area, you want them clean to start. Take time to plan your day accordingly, give yourself extra time at lunch to take care of business. Personally I opt out of using privys as I find the woods to be more sanitary.
If you want to go out and enjoy the trail go and do it. Become one with nature! You will define your adventures!