Only One Way to Find Out

Kayla “Popeye” McCarthy continues her story about her A.T. thru-hike

Now that I had made the decision to hike the trail, it was time to get ready. I had just under four months to get outfitted, prepare mail drops, and get familiar with my equipment. Since my parents had been planning this trip for so long already, they had a pretty good idea of what gear they liked and what they didn’t like. Knowing that a lot of research and experimenting had already been done, I mostly stuck with what they already had. We bought boots, socks, a down jacket, rain coat, fleece, hat, gloves, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, an Osprey pack, hiking outfit, along with all the little things like a small tooth brush and a whistle. Now that I had all my gear I had to familiarize myself with it. My parents had been to an Appalachian Trail class, to do some practice hikes on the AT and learn from a former thru hiker. They also did their own practice hike in northern Michigan so they were much more experienced than I was, considering I couldn’t remember the last time I had slept in a tent.

We were hoping to be able to sleep outside at some point before we left for the trail, but we had such a cold and brutal winter that it never got warm enough to do our test run. If we had done a test run we would have known that my mom and I were going to shiver all night long the first night on the trail! We resigned ourselves to setting up the tents indoors, just so we at least would know how to put it up and take it down when we hit the trail.

We also made the decision to send ourselves mail drops on the trail- boxes full of food and other items we would need to make it to the next resupply point. Bad Camel and I cooked and dehydrated food for hours everyday to fill 15 mail drop boxes. We had three dehydrators running- which kept our house nice and warm in the middle of winter! It was quite the operation to get 15 boxes ready, especially when each box had enough stuff for not one, but three people in it. Bad Camel and I agreed that if we could do things differently, we wouldn’t have done the mail drops. It was a ton of work, and a lot of the food ended up getting eaten by other hikers, since Wrong Way Jalapeno had to leave the trail. We of course don’t mind sharing with our fellow hikers, but it was a bit of a waste for us. It’s also hard to foresee what you are going to get sick of when you are out on the trail and there’s nothing worse than opening up a box full of food that you just can’t stomach.

One thing I wish I had done differently in my preparations was in announcing my decision to my friends. When I left my job I just quietly packed up my apartment and moved home- I didn’t make any posts on Facebook about it because I was ashamed I was giving up on my dream. Instead, I subtly started posting pictures of sleeping bags and backpacks, instead of horses, and I figured people would get the idea. What I didn’t want to do was to make some grand announcement of my intention of hiking 2000+ miles and then end up not following through. If I never actually said I was going to thru hike then I can’t fail, right? Looking back now, I regret this because even though I had never set foot on the trail, I still felt confident in my ability to thru hike. After having hiked the trail, I’ve learned to trust myself and my instincts, but at the time, I didn’t trust that feeling of confidence and I didn’t want to make any promises I couldn’t keep.

We finished putting the mail drops together about a week before it was time to leave for the trail. By this point I had probably read at least 15 books about the trail and had watched a few DVDs as well. We were all a little stir crazy after being stuck inside all winter and just ready to get out there and see what it was really going to be like. The books are great but you just can’t imagine what it will be like until you get out there. I was also feeling a bit anxious, wondering if I was going to like backpacking and if I’d be happy with my decision to live in the woods and carry all my possessions on my back for six months. There was only one way to find out!

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One response to “Only One Way to Find Out

  1. I think you captured the anxieties of a first-time backpacker perfectly, Popeye. While I’d done lots of hiking and camping before I set foot on the Appalachian Trail, I had never backpacked before I headed off to do half of the trail in 2011. But, like you, I just *knew* I was going to love it. And, I did. :^)

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