Hiking 15 miles with a roughly 35-pound pack will certainly wear a feller out.
I wanted get a realistic feel for what it would be like to hike under the conditions that I would be facing on the Appalachian Trail. As it’s been a few years since I have done any serious backpacking, I was anxious to see if my body could still hold up under the weight of a pack, on challenging terrain, over the course of an all-day hike.
My pack started out weighing 35lbs, which is the upper-most limit that I would ever be carrying on the AT. I had a full 3 liters of water, a full 32 oz of alcohol for my alcohol stove, and some extra odds and ends that I wouldn’t normally carry, but simulated the added weight of food for a few days. I would really like to trim my pack weight down to about 30lbs fully loaded, and I have some ideas for how to make that happen.
But really, this trip was about finding out what kind of shape I was in for what I am about to embark upon. There have been times when I’ve hiked a similar distance and been completely able to move the next day. I remember hiking 20 miles in a day to fulfill a requirement of the hiking merit badge in the Boy Scouts, and being unable to stand the next day. But thanks to a number of smaller hikes, lots of walking around Chapel Hill, and some weight training for my core and legs, I feel stronger and sturdier than I have ever been.
But, of course, the real challenge is going to be stringing together days back-to-back where you are covering 20+ miles a day, and doing it over more challenging terrain than what I did this weekend.
We were at Paris Mountain State Park in SC, which was gorgeous and well-maintained. Also, it was not in France. It was in South Carolina. There is a really big difference.
The park contained an area that had significant elevation change, and parts of trails we hiked were very similar to the sections of the AT that I have hiked. However, these sections were punctuated by long stretches of comparatively flat, easy hiking. The AT varies widely, but I think it will generally be harder terrain than what we hiked this weekend.
But that’s part of the beauty of the Appalachian Trail: It is a challenge that you can never fully prepare for. I know that during my week-long section hikes of the AT, I have felt my body change and adapt to the rigors or the hike. My feet hardened and became calloused, my legs thickened, and my lungs became accustomed to the thinner mountain air. It’s truly remarkable how quickly the human body can adapt.
So while I’m not at mid-AT hike peak physical form, I feel like I am in great shape to start. 15 miles with a full pack was no problem at all. I’m still able to do it. Yes, I was pretty tired. And yes, I’m a little bit sore. But all in all, I feel more than up to the physical challenge of the Appalachian Trail.
And now, without further ado, pictures.