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Much to learn on 100-mile hike


Last updated 9/20/2019 at 1:19pm | View PDF

I have long dreamed about backpacking the Appalachian Trail and in July, that dream became reality.

I've gone on organized hiking trips in the past, but this adventure would be different. No guide or timeline - just fly in, strap on my pack and head north. I found a hiking partner, bought a one-way ticket to Dulles, took an Uber to Harper's Ferry, W.V., and started walking.

Our daily routine consisted of hiking, eating and sleeping. The distance we hiked depended on the soreness of our feet and how far we were from that night's shelter. I ate my dehydrated meals out of zip-top bags, requiring minimal clean up. No running water or extra clothes meant quick morning and nighttime routines. Walking 10 hours a day provided considerable time to think and the opportunity to be "in the moment." As I took in the scenery, I saw a bear, which (because I was a safe distance away) was thrilling.

My pack started out at 30 pounds but increased with a resupply stop. As my shoulders ached, I rethought my decision to bring "luxury" items like deodorant and a book.

There were certain items I couldn't live without, like my neck knife (a small hunting knife with a sheath that I wore around my neck.) Whether I needed to cut paracord to tie my bag in a tree or slice some sausage for lunch, it came in handy every day.

Hikers on the AT don't use their given name; rather a trail name is given to you. Because I liked to update my partner on upcoming elevations, water sources and miles to camp, I was called Siri. My partner, a more experienced backpacker who was always teaching me something new, went by Scout.

We met thru hikers (people who traverse the entire 2,200-mile trail from Georgia to Maine) who offered advice about blisters and bear bag hanging techniques. With nothing but time to chat, we learned the many motivations that brought hikers to the trail, with graduation, retirement, divorce and desire for adventure being a few. We experienced "trail magic" when we were given bananas by one nice gentleman and offered drinks by a vacationing family at the famous Milesburn Cabin. People we met were intrigued by our adventure and went out of their way to be kind.

There is a famous hiker quote: "Embrace the suck." We learned that hiking through excessive rain brings on blisters, chafing and rashes. Heat and humidity can result in heat exhaustion and going up and down hills can aggravate an old knee injury. We came to appreciate just how much the lack of a shower can make you stink. Horribly. But blisters heal, showers are eventually taken and ice relieves an aching knee. We walked through our pain, even though there were times we wanted to quit.

Eleven days later, after hiking through Maryland, we made it to Boiling Springs, Penn., and our 100-mile mark. I was elated at the accomplishment but ready to get back to my family and the comforts of home.

I didn't expect to feel restless upon my return, but I found noises were too loud and traffic too fast. I missed the sound of croaking frogs as I went to sleep. Already I find myself longing for the days of hiking - with nothing to do but think and take in the scenery, the perfect way to take a break from a busy life and feel rejuvenated.

- Stephanie Seppanen of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected]


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