40 Things I Learned Hiking The First 40 Miles of the Appalachian Trail

Last week, my dad and I spent 5 days hiking the first 40 miles of the Appalachian Trail, starting at Springer Mountain and ending at Hogpen Gap (just past Blood Mountain).  This was my first time taking a multi-day hiking/camping trip, and it was an incredible experience.  Here’s what I learned along the way:

  1. Nothing prepares you for the excitement/nervousness of beginning a big hike
  2. Starting early in the morning can take some getting used to, but you’ll appreciate the cool morning air once the afternoon sun hits
  3. Wild owls are cool as heck
  4. The best way to start the day is with a view of the sunrise from the top of a mountain
  5. The trail may be pretty empty at the beginning of the day…
  6. But the later the day gets (and the closer you hike to popular campsites), the more hikers you’ll see
  7. Peeing in the woods is both freeing and terrifying
  8. While hikers seem mostly divided on whether to use sunscreen or not…
  9. Bug spray is a must
  10. Giant millipedes are not cool as heck
  11. Hitting your mileage goal for the day is super rewarding…
  12. But having a long afternoon at an isolated campsite on your first day of hiking can get pretty boring
  13. Setting up camp for the first time can be pretty stressful
  14. Sleeping in a tent may take some getting used to
  15. Seeing the stars at night is unreal
  16. Getting up to pee in the middle of the night is a decision you have to thoroughly think through and commit toIMG_9327 copy.jpg
  17. Candy is a luxury most hikers have no problem carrying extra weight for
  18. You’ll feel really proud of your 8-mile-a-day average until you talk to other hikers who are averaging 15-20 miles…
  19. But you’ll learn it’s not a competition and at the end of the day, everyone is equally excited and exhausted
  20. You can’t skimp out on stocking up on water
  21. The key to tackling uphills is going slow and steady – stopping and starting is a painful process that will only drain you physically and mentally
  22. Seeing people in their 60s+ tackling the AT will give you some serious inspiration
  23. You’ll meet people from all over the country (and sometimes the world)
  24. Staying in shelters may not be your cup of tea…
  25. But take the time to get to know your tent neighbors…
  26. Because you’ll probably end up encountering the same people multiple times on your journey
  27. If you have a trail name, use it! (even if it’s something pretty uncool, like Spitz)
  28. Creeks and streams are a literal godsend, and a popular resting spot for hikers of all distancesIMG_9086.jpg
  29. 9:00 p.m. is a late night for most hikers – once the sun starts setting, anytime is fair game to turn in for the night
  30. Make sure to dig a big enough hole when you stop to go #2
  31. You may think you’re getting an awesome tan, but it’s probably just dirt
  32. The downhill on Blood Mountain is almost worse than the uphill…
  33. And you’ll learn that hiking on flat ground is infinitely better than hiking downhill
  34. Neels Gap feels like a home away from home after a couple days on the trail
  35. You’ll have a whole new appreciation for things like running water, picnic tables, and bathrooms with actual toilets and toilet paper
  36. You’ll meet some of the coolest, weirdest, nicest, craziest, and friendliest people on the trail…
  37. And all it takes is a nice campfire and a round of swapping trail stories or showing off battle wounds to feel like you’ve known your fellow hikers for ages
  38. People who set up “trail magic” stations deserve medals of honor
  39. Hiking a section of the trail will only leave you wanting more…
  40. And hiking any part of it, no matter how big or small, will make you realize how beautiful our world is, and how much of a gift it is to experience, explore, and just exist in it

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