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The Appalachian trail for newbies


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Our names are Tate Samson and Duncan Keys we are seniors at Mount Saint Joseph High School. As novices to hiking and camping we collaborated with a group of friends and specifically one with extensive experience as a member of the Eagle Scouts. We chose the Appalachian Trail as our maiden voyage. We learned about the prep work that has to go into it, such as the food planning, gathering our gear, efficiently packing, and researching possible encounters on the trail. We began in Caledonia state park, Pennsylvania and ended in Boonsboro, Maryland. From the start of planning till our first steps we had no idea what to expect. A part of me was kind of hoping it would be just a sidewalk in the middle of the forest. Thinking there wasn’t much more to hiking that walking up and down hills for miles we were sorely mistaken. The weight of our bags swaying back and forth really messed with our momentum but we trudged on. Through the first few miles we swatted and sprayed the mosquitoes off of our blood filled vessels. Climbing over rocks, and pushing on up the mountains we came to a point where our bodies had gotten the best of us. Hunger matched by our levels of perspiration. We decided it was time for a break. At about 3 o’clock on the first day we broke bread on the trail, surrounded by our compatriots and nature. We ate granola bars and drank our minimum liter of water to prevent dehydration. We powered through the sweltering heat and overpowering humidity. Until we had hiked the twelve miles to our first camping site, Deer Knob.

Upon arriving to where we intended to camp each day we had a few hours of daylight left. We were all exhausted from the hike of the day and began with an extended rest where we ate and sarcastically talked about how we weren’t tired and could do the rest of the hike through the night. After a few hours we decided we should probably begin to set up home for the night. We began by putting our belongings in trash bags and hanging them on tree branches to keep animals from getting to them. We got them up by throwing a rope up over the branch after we tied a rock to it and using it to pull our bags out of reach. Next we set up our tent. It was a four person tent and we were a hiking party of five so it was a bit of a squeeze. None of us were comfortable when we were sleeping but we were able to rest up for another grueling day on the trail. We found that when setting up your tent, it is best to find a spot where it won’t get wet easily and where you could reach any equipment you might need without difficulties. One thing we would have changed was that we didn’t plan for our free time when we weren’t hiking. It would have been nice to have some kind of game or a ball to entertain ourselves in the evening.

We woke up on the second day of our hike early in order to get a jumpstart on the day. We fought through the grogginess of waking up early and the chill of the morning dew. From our plan we designated the second day the longest of our 32.5 miles. We began our 20 miles and grinded our way to a sign that said “United States Border”. At this point our Eagle Scout leader told us that we had crossed the Mason-Dixon line. We were so wrong. About 3 hours later we came across another sign saying “Mason-Dixon line”. At this point our second wind came after being crippled from our previous mistake. After our 20 miles we got to Pine Knob campsite. And the whole process started again. Bagging our food and hanging it, setting up our tent, sleeping, waking up early, eating and proceeding to our final destination in Boonsboro, Maryland. After retreating back to our friends house following the hike we slept for hours. This hike was somewhat of a retreat with the only real for of the outside world was the camera we took to record all of our encounters.

We learned many things, how to depend on ourselves, how to push through adversity and work together as a team. We struggled finding an efficient way to pack our things and hang them in a bear bag as easily as possible. So we used Tate’s strength to hold it up and my length to get up and string it up. We used other members of our group to be charismatic enough to make this trip into a serious of enjoyable videos. This experience and entry shouldn’t be taken as a strict how to on how you wrap the rope around a tree to use its weight and pull the rope around and up an adjacent tree to get your bear bag onto a tall branch, or securing your tent far enough from anything that could put holes in your tent or expose your tent to wildlife. But instead this should motivate you to make smart decisions, trust the people around you and use common sense to your advantage. Pack light, pack smart, essentials only, and never assume you have gone a certain distance, because you probably haven’t. An ample amount of water is key to a better hike. It seemed easier when we had something to drink as opposed to when we ran out. We each brought four liters of water and were still constantly looking for a place to fill our bottles back up. This hike should be just like the trail itself. It’s very up and down but the key is to keep moving and keep your head up. It never seems to stop going up, so savor all of the downhill moments you get because they are few and in between. Always keep your group together it makes the trail bearable and frankly a lot easier. What you should take away from this is how to keep moving forward. The physical aspect is a generally easy if you keep your head high and if you keep the right mindset. The prep is easy. Working as a team makes everything better. As novices finding what materials to bring is all about listening, which is easy. But they never tell you how to prepare mentally. That’s why we are writing this. Our whole trip was a success because we had a goal to accomplish. That goal was clearest in the rockier parts of the trail. We divided the map into 4 parts. The beginning first day of the hike. The downhill second part, the uphill long shot and the 4th downhill section. Make clear goals for yourself and declare them with the rest of your group because especially when people get distance in between them you have some semblance of an idea what to do. We made this hike into 5 different sections to get it done. First, the planning, figure out what to bring and eliminate any risks to the best of your ability. Second, have someone who knows what they are doing to show you key things to do (like this forum), third, create goals for yourself, fourth, create manageable and efficient ways to get them done. And fifth, find a way to enjoy the process of going of this hike.

“Returning to the house let us think and reflect on our experience. The hike was long and grueling, the food was repetitive and got tasteless over the trip, but the experience on this trail was one I won’t forget. Hours upon hours laughing and hiking our way through the Appalachian Trail was truly the best part of this experience. Overall 10/10 experience would recommend.” -Duncan Keys

“During the trip I just wanted it to be over. I had gotten sick of the food and at times it felt like I couldn’t go any farther. Especially the second day when we realized we hadn’t passed the mason dixon line. That was demoralizing to say the least. Looking back I am happy I did it and have made memories that I will never forget and became closer with my friends. Personally I don’t plan on doing anything like this again or at least not for a LONG time, but I would recommend to do it at least once in your lifetime.” -Tate Samson

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