Through the Shenandoah National Park from Ashby Gap to Humpback Rocks ... 144 miles this time, heading out on June 4 (National Trails Day, they tell me). This will likely be my last hike until the summer's heat fades away in September.One of the big advantages of the Appalachian Trail is the relative ease of resupplying food, water, and clean socks.
More and more planning as I get farther from Round Hill! Where is there water, where can I camp, how far can I go on the four day supply of food I carry, what should I stop and see? (I may never pass this way again ...)
My mentor suggests that I just load up and walk until I'm done, which has its appeal. After all, I may be using the same spreadsheet tricks I used ìn bygone days, but this is not an military exercise in the Arctic. I was much older then.
It's not even a race to cover the full trail in one year, as the thru hikers do ... NOBOs, northbound hikers who start at Springer Mountain in Georgia and rush north through spring storms in the Smokies and summer heat in Pennsylvania ... SOBOs who begin by climbing Mt. Katahdin in Maine and working their way through winter's leftovers in the White Mountains .. and "flip floppers" who start in the center and head north to Katahdin and then return to the middle and march south.
Then, there are purist "whiteblazers" who stick to the AT for the full 2200+ miles, "slackpackers" who count on their support team to drive ahead andset up camp for them and carry little more than water, snacks, and minimal emergency gear, and innovative "aquablazers" who do the Shenandoah Valley section in canoes.
And there are also those of us who are "freeblazing" the AT, out on the trail to enjoy it, going wherever and whenever we please with no particular time objective. (Thanks to "Flower Child" for inventing the catchphrase and posting it in the logbook at Ed Garvey shelter. All kinds of interesting stories and art in the logs, fun reading.)
However ... even freeblazing needs preparation. Every trip has a beginning and an end, and the grocery stores and retaurants in the small towns along the way are not guaranteed to have reasonably priced trail food available. So I work out the number of days I will be on the trail, and premix a double ration rehydratable dinner in a ziploc bag for each day. I bake trail bars, and I repurpose grocery store items like tuna packs, two per day. The dinners, bars, and tuna go into cardboard mailing boxes with a spare pair of socks, a pack of batteries for my headlamp, and a bottle of iodine pills for treating water if my gravity filter dies. I can either mail these resupply boxes to one of the places along the Trail that will hold on to them, or cadge friends into delivering them to me at one of the multitude of intersections with major roads along the Trail.
Receiving those boxes, though, requires being somewhere every three to four days and adjusting the delivery plan to make those points match up with locations where I can receive supplies. So the carefree wanderer is an illusion -- not so free, really.
At least, not yet. I'm working on it.