Sunday, June 17, 2012

Giardia and Other Trail Vocabulary

In conversations with friends and family back home, we've found that the trail has its own vernacular, which sounds like Greek to anyone outside of the trail community.  So we thought we'd take a blog post to familiarize you with some of our trail lingo.  

We'll start with Giardia, because it's particularly relevant to us these days.  Giardia is a water-born intestinal bug common on the AT, with symptoms akin to what might happen if you ate street food in Mexico or drank water from the Ganges.  It's also something that I picked up about two weeks ago, despite the fact that we treat every drop of water we drink (you can also get it from hand contact).  Needless to say, we've been taking a lot of breaks during hiking and had some pretty rough days.  Don't worry, we finally made it to a clinic and got antibiotics, so in a few weeks I should be as good as new and Giardia-free.  Haha, AT, another foiled attempt to take down Bearcub!

Our first blue blaze - the Virginia Creeper Trail
With Giardia out of the way, we can move on to some less graphic trail vocabulary.  First, there's the "blaze vocab":

  • White Blazing - following the white blazes that mark the AT
  • Blue Blazing - following side trails that intersect or run parallel to the AT (marked with blue blazes); we blue-blazed when we took the "Virginia Creeper Trail" out of Damacus.  We're glad we did it, because it was flatter, prettier, and because Guyline is a creeper (just kidding).
  • Aqua Blazing - canoeing rivers that run parallel to the AT rather than hiking that section; we are considering doing some aqua-blazing in the Shenandoahs since Laun instilled a love of canoeing in Bearcub at a young age.
  • Yellow Blazing - driving, shuttling, or hitching past a section of the trail; we have not done any yellow blazing but a lot of hikers do, which makes them hard to keep up with!  There are also several large trails that intersect the AT, some of which are marked by actual yellow blazes.  
  • Pink Blazing - hiking after a girl (we're in very high demand out here)
  • Brown Blazing - here's a hint, it goes hand in hand with having Giardia!
  • Ghost Blazing/Retro Blazing - hiking old sections of the AT after the trail has been relocated
  • Slack packing bonus - loaner Batman day pack
  • Rainbow Blazing - a hiker who follows all types of blazes on their hike (blue, yellow, white, etc.)

There are also names for different types of hikers:
  • Thru-hiker - hiking the entire trail in one calendar year
  • Section hiker - hiking the trail in small sections
  • Flip-flopper - flipping directions on a thru-hike, usually because of time commitments or weather (e.g., if we don't think we'll finish before Mt. Katahdyn closes for winter on 10/15, we could shuttle up to Maine and start hiking South)
  • Leapfrogging - skipping large sections of the trail with a plan to return and hike them later (sure you will, buster)
  • Slack packing - hiking with a day pack while a support crew shuttles your pack to you or you back to your pack.  We did slack packing about a month ago; a hostel shuttled us ahead and we left our packs there and hiked back to the hostel. It was a rainy day and we were glad to be ending it somewhere warm and dry.
  • NOBO - North-bounder
  • SOBO - South-bounder
  • Blaze kisser/purist - a hiker with an unwavering commitment to hike past every white blaze
  • Hike Your Own Hike - a phrase/attitude that any kind of hiking is welcome
Hiker aqua blazing on an unstable craft
Hikers are always concerned with pack weight, so of course there is a set of vocab dedicated to that:
  • Base weight - also called dry weight; weight of the pack and gear, excluding consumables like food, water, and fuel
  • Pack weight - weight of the pack, gear, and consumables at the start of a trip
  • Skin-out base weight - base weight plus what the hiker is wearing
  • Light backpacking - base weight close to 20 pounds
  • Ultralight backpacking - base weight close to 10 pounds (I haven't weighed my pack in awhile, but with the purchase of a new 2 pound pack, I may be flirting with ultralight now!)
  • Gram-weenie - hiker who is obsessed with cutting weight, down to details like sawing off the end of a toothbrush
  • Gearhead - a hiker obsessed with gear
Finally, here's some miscellaneous terminology for you:
  • Hiker midnight - our absurdly early bedtime (usually shortly after dark)
  • Gorp - "good old raisins and peanuts"
  • Bouldering - free rock climbing; most of the good bouldering sites on the AT are up North
  • Bushwhacking - making your own trail
  • AYCE - All you can eat!!
  • Blowdowns - fallen trees from storms and high winds; Guyline and I have encountered new blowdowns and spent upwards of 5 minutes figuring out how to get through, over, around, or under them
  • Zero - day off from hiking
  • Nero - "nearly a zero"; a day when you hike very short miles, usually into or out of a town
  • PUD - "pointless ups and downs"; sections of the trail with huge elevation changes for no apparent reason such as water, roads, or views
  • Stealth camping - camping where you aren't supposed to camp
  • Trail magic - random acts of kindness toward hikers on the trail
  • Trail angel - someone who does trail magic
  • Triple crown - a hiker who has hiked all three of America's longest trails: the AT, the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail), and the CDT (Continental Divide Trail)
  • 2,000 Miler - someone who has hiked the entire AT (although I feel a little cheated out of the other 186!)
  • Vitamin I - nickname for ibuprofen
  • Yogi-ing - begging without begging (e.g., arriving at a busy tourist parking lot sweaty and collapsing in a heap, proclaiming to yourself how hungry you are and how badly you need a ride), when you come visit us on the AT, you'll be all up to speed, right?  


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Buck Stops Here?

In the past few days, we've had two interesting animal sightings we thought might make for good blogging. One of the encounters was pretty exciting, and the other was slightly terrifying.

Encounter #1

As Bearcub and I were enjoying a rare stretch of flat trail, chatting since the terrain allowed us the lung capacity to do so, we heard a rustling in the woods down the ravine to our right. We both instantly fell silent and began visually scouring the woods for an animal. Apparently, when I visually scour I use my entire body, as I completely blocked every angle of Bearcub's view. So in a bittersweet moment, I caught a glimpse of a bear running through the woods, and Bearcub totally missed it.
We walked on for a couple of minutes in complete silence. Bearcub was disappointed that she missed the action, and I felt guilty for blocking the view. But then suddenly, we heard the rustling again, and we both got a clear view of the bear completing his escape! We were both as excited as kids on Christmas morning. Although most people may consider a bear sighting a frightening occurrence, the bear was clearly more frightened of us than we were of it. Unfortunately, not every animal on the AT shares that attitude. This is where our tale takes a dark turn...
Encounter #2

Evil lurking in the woods

Typically, Bearcub and I only hike a few steps apart and stay close at all times. However, occasionally if I have to make a stop, Bearcub will keep hiking ahead knowing that I'll catch up with her again in a few minutes. This meant that Bearcub encountered a cute little buck on the trail before I did. She noticed that he was strangely not very frightened by her presence, and stayed still long enough for her to snap a few photos.
A few minutes later, I passed the buck and also found it strange that he was not retreating into the woods. I hiked on not thinking too much about it until I heard a ruckus behind me. I assumed what I was hearing was a delayed retreat into the woods, but when I turned around I noticed that the buck was sprinting directly at me! I shouted "Hey!" at the buck assuming the noise would scare him away. He stopped, looked at me curiously, and just stood there. I figured that must have done the trick, and I kept hiking. I turned back again a few seconds later to notice that he was now on the trial and trotting after me! This whole scene played out for a solid 5 minutes and a few hundred yards. I would shout, bang my poles on trees, and do my best to look scary. He would stop for a second, look innocent, and then charge at me again a few minutes later. I'm not ashamed to admit (maybe slightly ashamed) that I was downright scared. I didn't really want to be body-checked and trampled by a deer no matter how cute of a murder it may have been. Finally, he must have gotten distracted by a particularly interesting sapling and he left me alone long enough that I could return to my protector, Bearcub.
Long story short, I'm hoping now that we've seen one bear we've opened the flood gates to see a lot more. However, I'd be perfectly happy not to see another deer for a few hundred miles.

- Guy Line

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

And I Would Walk 500 Miles

......and I would walk 500 more!   It has been awhile since we've given an actual update, and lots has happened:
• We are both happy, healthy, and still determined to finish this hike!
• We received several rides from Miss Janet, a local legend in the trail community.   She is a trail angel who tirelessly drives hikers around during the season out of the goodness of her heart.

With Miss Janet and the "Bounce Box"

• On May 23rd, we FINALLY made it to Virginia

The Tennessee/Virginia state line

• On May 25th, we crossed the 500 mile mark, and a few days later officially completed 1/4 of the trail.  As of now we are 630 miles in.
Reaching the 500 mile mark at the end of a long day...
• We took our first "for fun" zero days for the Trail Days festival in Damascus, VA.   Highlights included the hiker parade/water fight, free showers, and a lot of relaxation time with fellow hikers.
Water ballon assault on hikers heading to the parade

• We happened to hike behind a trail maintenance crew that was re-routing a section of the AT.   Along with our friends Spaniard and Mountain Goat, we were the first people to ever hike that section of trail.

The new section of trail we got to hike....with a volunteer heading down the mountain in the background!

• Since Trail days, we have received tons of trail magic....probably half of the road crossings we've hiked over have had coolers filled with cold drinks and snacks - makes our day every time!
Trail Magic coming into Damascus.

• We saw a bobcat on the trail one morning!  We must have surprised him by our quiet, graceful hiking....
• We are trying to crank up the mileage and make up some time, putting in between 15 and 20 miles a day.   It is tiring but good so far!
• We passed through Grayson Highlands State Park and saw dozens of wild ponies

Wild Ponies in Grayson Highlands State Park

• Spaniard and Mountain Goat have inspired us to get creative to eat healthy on the trail.  We've learned that Taco Bell makes pre-cooked black beans in a bag, two people can eat a bag of spinach in one day if they try hard, and broccoli florets last two days tucked deep in a backpack.

So far, we have avoided getting "the Virginia blues" (Virginia is over 500 miles long!!!!) and have enjoyed the slightly easier terrain and change of scenery.   We walk through a cow pasture almost everyday which keeps us focused on avoiding giant cowpies.   And we are excited for our friends Sarika and Anne to visit us in Shenandoah Natl Park in a few weeks.

For now, we'd better get cracking on that "500 more"......

Friday, June 1, 2012

AT Quiz Answers!

Alright all you bashful readers, we know you read the quiz blog because we have access to that kind of info (we've got spies everywhere), but it seems that only a few of you were brave enough to answer. Of those courageous few, we are officially proclaiming Littlefoot the champion. Congrats, Littlefoot! All of the answers are listed below.

1) There are roughly 165,000 white blazes marking the AT from Georgia to Maine. Volunteers all over the 14 trail states contribute to the blazing and maintenance of the trail.

2) At the time that we posted the quiz, we had hiked 531 miles. As of this post, we have hiked 587.

3) We have hiked in 4 different states - Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. We'll be in VA for about a month as about one fourth of the trail is in this state.

4) We have thankfully only dropped one item over the side of a mountain. It was only a quart-sized Gatorade bottle, but one would have guessed it was a prized possession if they had heard the way we shouted "Gatorade, noooooo!" as we watched it slowly roll down the mountain.

5) We saw 1 bobcat and we're pretty pumped about it. The bobcat is nearly as elusive on the trail as a clean-shaven, showered hiker.

6) We have seen 13 snakes, and Bearcub is nearly as big of a fan of them as she is of spiders.

7) We've seen 2 of those snakes trying to eat something alive. We saw one that had a lizard by the leg, and another was wrapped around a cute baby mouse. Bearcub was traumatized after that one. I admit it was a bit difficult to watch. Then again if a snake saw me eating wings he'd probably be a bit traumatized as well. Sometimes nature ain't pretty.

8) We have seen zero wild boar, so this answer is also kind of a bore.

9) It took 46.5 days for Jennifer Davis to complete the fastest thru-hike on record in 2011.

10) The AT goes through 14 states.

11) At the time of the quiz post, I had fallen twice and Bearcub had once. However, a few hours after that post, Bearcub evened the score with one of those slow motion falls where you know you're going down but there's nothing you can do about it. Luckily, the only thing hurt was her pride.

12) The highest elevation on the AT is at Clingman's Dome in the Smokies at 6,543 feet.

13) A liter of water weighs about 2.2 lbs. Since we start our hike everyday with 2 liters and drink most of it right before we get to the next water source, our pack weight can fluctuate by 4.4 lbs throughout the day without considering the weight of the food we eat each day (a lot).

14) Combined we carry about 4 liters or 8.8 lbs of water.

15) We are currently on our 3rd bear rope. We made a rookie mistake and got the 1st one stuck in a tree, and our 2nd one was low quality so we stripped it multiple times and had to replace it.

16) Combined we have lost 10 pounds of body weight. I've lost 10, and Bearcub has not lost any, but that's because she's gained muscle. We read that by the end of the hike, the men look like famine victims and the women look like super models. So far that seems accurate for us, but Bearcub already looked like a super model before we started. Brownie points!

17) At the time of the quiz post, we had been hiking 56 days. As of today, it has been 60 days.

Alright, I'm guessing that filled your appetite for tedious AT facts.

Until next time...

Guy Line