October 8, 2011

Food on the Trail, Part 1

About a week ago Dust and I celebrated our three-year trailaversary.  He was in dress pants, driving, when he got a text from me, folding clothes, that said something like "3 yrs today!"  A few virtual high-fives on Facebook from hiker friends, and that little pause in the day to look up from corporate America and grocery lists and go Huh. We really did that is pretty much all we did to commemorate.  I'm sure thru-hikers everywhere do the same thing unless they're still living like hiker trash, hitchhiking across the country or re-hiking the same trail, in which case the perpetual state of nomadic backpacking is just a lifestyle.  But for those of us that felt like the trail was a huge departure from paying rent and changing the oil, it's wild to look up and remember what life looked like three years ago.  

So that night I brought the laptop to bed and we made it through half of our 2,000+ pictures (almost one for every mile of trail) before nodding off and waking up to what we only dreamed of while hiking - the clean rim of a toilet and unpowdered milk for our cereal.  I was inspired to drag out some pics that didn't make the cut on our trail blog (and some that did) to celebrate the millions of calories we ingested to get ourselves from northern Georgia all the way up into Maine.

Here goes.

My very first snack on the AT was a Slim Jim, smoked on the top of Springer Mountain, the southern terminus in Georgia.  We had hiked probably a mile from my sister's Acura to this spot and I was already eating a snack.  I obviously had no clue what I was in for, and that's my wish for every future thru-hiker.  I could never do it again knowing how insanely hard it was.

If I could express the kind of cold that is pictured here, it would be so satisfying.  Just know that our shoulders were permanently hunched like that for the next 24 hours until we made it to Hiwassee.  This is Dave from Maine at Tray Mountain Shelter with his collapsible bowl full of Backpacker's Pantry Black Bean Tamale Pie. He totally gave us one.

These pictures fill me with nostalgia.  I know, an ugly motel comforter and a bunch of junk food.  But it was such a routine, spreading our groceries out and organizing our food bags during each town stop.  Besides washing my funk-nasty clothes, it was my favorite town chore.

Brrrrr.  Waking up in the Smokies after one of the coldest nights on the trail, Hoot and Sundance fire up the Pocket Rocket for oatmeal and something hot to drink.

We have a soft spot for diners that will last for the rest of our marriage, I'm sure of it.  We jammed down on so many breakfast platters and burgers it was unreal.  Sometimes at the same meal.  Here's Pixie and Muffin Paste, waiting for breakfast in a diner in Hot Springs, North Carolina.

This couple uses trail magic as their ministry.  And oh, they do it well.

Mayo packets, powdered donuts and a block of cheddar cheese getting oilier by the minute.  I took this picture at a road crossing.  I always felt a sense of injustice when we were this close to civilization eating from our foodbag.  Cars zooming past had access to Subway and piping hot strombolis, but here.  Just squirt some mayo on a cheese sandwich instead.

This is a diner hidden at the back of a convenience store that's also a gas station.  This is a powerful trifecta found in the South that sustains hikers and truckers alike.  A short-order cook is the cherry on top.  Paste, Bert, Blaze, The Breeze, Hiker Dave and Brahma are in line for biscuits and gravy and some kind of pork.  Plus hot coffee in a styrofoam cup with powdered sugar and creamer, DMV style.

Oh, baby.  King of the Road.  A seafood house in the middle of Tennessee should send up some red flags, but we literally ran, with backpacks bouncing, to get to this place before it closed.  Needless to say, almost everyone got sick.  Such good times though...

Often you end up at the same hostel as all your friends, and it calls for a breakfast party before hitting the trail.  We pooled our money at the Kincora Hostel and made a huge spread with crepes (thanks to our French Canadian Pixie), biscuits, jelly, eggs, OJ and bacon.  Brahma, still sleepy-eyed, eating before the day's hike.  And man, that shirt faded by Maine.

The trail runs right through our neck of the woods in Virginia, so it was easy to fit some of Mom's chocolate cake into our thru-hike.  It was also a chance for Brahma to do some welding with Bruce Smith.  Pretty much the last thing you want to do on a zero day is something harder than hiking, but it was the only chance to get the wrought-iron fence around Dad's grave in place before we drifted further north.

Not a bad parting shot, especially since this is also exactly what it felt like to get off the trail.  

A delicious pause.


  1. I LIKE THIS SO MUCH! And this is funny: I was just thinking about you two and your hike a few days ago, wondering if you talk about it much, if memories bubble up in odd places and at odd times. So thanks so much for taking the time to write this and go through your photos and share, Betsy! Miss you guys! Kathy

  2. I don't think I'm going to survive this night without a piece of that chocolate cake...

  3. i love this. and i love you guys. and i love reading all about your adventure and having zero trail envy ;0)

  4. I'm so glad that there is a writer like you who hiked the trail in '08. You can describe the people and the places (hotels, hostels, etc.) so well, and it was practically identical our experience. And then you describe things like the clothes, the food, the miles, and it is practically identical to a lot of thru-hikers' experience.

    The comment about Brahma's shirt made me think of this. I hiked McAfee Knob this summer, ran into Charlie and Y2K from '08, then we all met up for dinner at the Homeplace the next day (which was Thursday--of course :). I looked across the table at Y2K and said, "Is that a Mountain Hardware shirt?" (as if I don't already know that they are popular with hikers...but I had forgotten) It was the same shirt Slow Train had worn for a majority of the second half of the hike. It was surprising and brought back this weird nostalgia, like I saw someone random walking around town wearing my late grandfather's favorite jacket.
    ~EZ Does It/Rachel

  5. Hey Rachel, good to hear from you! Even as I'm looking back through pictures and writing these posts, I get a sense that the trail is stuck in time and that if hikers from this year read this they'd have so many of the same stories and experiences. Sure a few new hostels open up here and there, but for the most part, the AT is somewhat static. There was this one guy on the trail with us (can't remember his trail name) but he had hiked it SEVEN times. I asked why and he said "It's like home to me." I can totally understand that now (when at at the time I was probably thinking 'this guy has no life.') Ha!


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