View Full Version : Against All Odds...
I am planning a 2004 Thru-hike with my 13 year-old daughter, a recovered Autistic (NOT retarded. It's similar to ADHD). I've never done anything like this--well, I grew up on a farm and did a lot of hiking--but that was YEARS ago. My hubby can't make the hike with us--can't get the time off from work, so it would be just the two of us. Hubby says we CAN"T hike alone (I wouldn't want to). I am hoping to find some hiking companions.
I am a short 4' 11'', 42 year old female with fibromyalgia, 25-30 pounds overweight and very out of shape due to a sedentary lifestyle (which I'm heartily sick of, BTW, it's not how I grew up). I've have had both feet operated on for problems stemming from high arches and I have a lower back and cervical disk bulges from a car accident (Can't carry heavy loads). I am a nurse--an LPN and have had some experience in camping and hiking, spent a lot of time in the woods. I am a nurse (LPN), so have first aid knowledge.
My daughter, on the other hand is 5' 7'', all muscle and energy, loves hiking and camping and is gung-ho to make this trip. She will be 15 by the time we attempt it. Her big challenge is her diet--she cannot have any form of gluten (wheat, rye, barley, oats) or milk products (icluding casein and whey).
We'd have to prepare and drop-ship most of our food, due to her diet needs, but other than that, have no serious health problems like Diabetes, heart or lung issues.
I'm carefully reading and researching this and I know it is not without its challenges. But we plan to train for the hike and prepare well. I point out to my family that people in their 70's have successfully made the hike. I do not want to so section-hikes, I want the experience and challenge of the Thru-hike.
My idea is to hike carrying as little weight as possible. We aren't experienced enough to hike Ultra-Light, but many of the ideas and gear items would work for us. I plan to take 6-7 months to do the entire trail, hiking 10-12 miles per day, not taking as many rest days as some so we don't have to do high-mileage hiking.
I've thought of doing a story on the hike, making it a "Walk for Autism Awareness--There IS a Cure" type of thing, finding sponsors and all that. Just a thought.
My extended family thinks I'm crazy. Their objections range from the 'crazies' on the trail who would murder us to bears to hypothermia to the physical impossibility of the feat.
I have several questions:
1) Does anyone know of any Autistic that ever hiked the entire length of the AT? (My daughter wants to be the first:) )
2) Has anyone known or heard of folks with fibromyalgia completing the AT?
3) Does anyone know if any of the supply towns have health food stores in them? Most of our alternative grains (rice pasta, millet bread, soy yogurt) come from them.
4) Is there a forum for AT Trail Angels online?
5) How feasable is it to try and find a trail companion with experience that would make the hike with us?
5)Cost of gear is a big problem--I've thought of querying some outfitters for their interest in loaning gear for an undertaking like this in exchange for the advertisment value. Any thoughts on this?
Anything I'm not thinking of? Any comments? Encouragements? Just don't tell me it's impossible--I'm hearing enough of that already...
A few thoughts, and others probably can do better...
(1) No idea if others have or not. But "being first" at anything along the AT is sort of apart from how most people think; it's not a place, you will hear, for records, and none are kept. You might tell your daughter something I heard told to me: Walking the AT is a 'first' for everyone, even those who have done it more than once.
(2) I'm familiar with fibro; I don't know if others have done the whole AT, but I know a few women who have done large sections. You may find the exercise to help, and your approach (sounds like you're going to eliminate as much stress as possible) should too. (Don't overlook the real hot springs in Hot Springs, NC!)
(3) Trail towns that are right on the trail will not usually have what you need for special food. But usually there will be close by sources, in larger towns that you can hitch a ride to where there will either be larger groceries or occasionally a health food store. But rice pasta and some of your other items can be easily maildropped by pre-planning. Get the ATC Planning Book to help on that.
(4) Never heard of a forum for AT Angels. What are you looking for? Post a message here (in another thread perhaps) and you might find one.
(5) If you find a "trail companion" who promises to do the whole trail with you, the odds are 90% against her/him finishing. Start at Springer. You and you daughter will make good friends fast, and hike with them for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, and you'll keep making friends like that for the whole trail. Those will be your real companions.
(5-2) Gear. You'll save on some things by having two of you (stove, etc). Loans are rare, but go ahead and try. Buy used - check the AT Conference Newsletter, gear offered here and other forums, and consider making some of your own. It doesn't have to cost a fortune for gear.
It's not impossible. Everyone's friends/families tells us that. We know different, don't we? Keep it up!
Let me chime in here. The good news about your current health situation is that you have a long time to ready yourself for this adventure. Don't put it off. Start to exercise now. Start slowly, but do something every other day or so. You can lose weight and strengthen yourself before your hike. All sorts of people have hiked the AT (blind, recovering stroke victims, etc..), so your health issues and your daughters should not prevent you from completing the trail (or hiking a large portion of it). Talk to your physicians however. What is most important, IMO, is having a high threshold for pain & discomfort (hot, cold, bugs) and having a strong (or burning) desire to hike the trail. If this is not something that is important to both of you, it is real easy to quit. You WILL be tested on the AT, mostly psychologically. It's more of a head game than a physical endeavor.
I think you have the right idea about hiking shorter miles. Here is perhaps the best advice you'll get... DO NOT feel compelled to adhere to a schedule early on. Take your time. Allow your bodies to adjust to life on the trail. If you start out trying to do 8-10 miles a day right out of the box, you can get injured or dismayed real easy. Since you have 6-7 months, take it easy in GA. You can make up time later. I met a wonderful woman named Woodchip in 2000. At 66 y.o. she started almost a month later than me and finished the trail the day before me (I was 38 in 2000). She took only 1 day off, and hiked from 6:00 AM til 6:00 PM every day. Slow & steady...
Gear cost. Technology will not get you to Maine. Determination will. You can build your own stove for pennies. You can find close-out gear or buy used gear. Your packs should be fitted at an outfitter. Shoes too. With your arch problems you DO NOT want to scrimp on your footwear. You may need special inserts in your shoes if your feet are in tough shape. They will take a beating on the AT.
Hope that answers some of your questions.
Don't let anyone bully you into thinking you need all high tec stuff. You can use a lot of clothing you may already have or find cheap at Wal-Mart. you can make a pack and shelter with minimal skills, stoves and kitchen are the easiest things to improvise on etc. About the hardest thing to make would be a sleeping bag, but it can be done.
Making your own gear is a great way to cut weight and customize to your self (4'11" is an odd size for a lot of gear) and your style of hiking. I would reccomend starting by reading "Beyond Backpacking" and maybe discounting everything he says about diet and nutrition. But it yas a lot of great suggestions to lighten packs especially for a pair. It has gear patterns and techniques you may not even think about. I don't think you need to buy his book and totally copy Ray Jardine's style - especially if you are a novice to backpacking, but it will give you a good frame of reference.
About gear. Expensive items generally include the pack, stove, sleeping bag, tent, and shoes. You can build your own stove out of a soda can in about 2 minutes. You can find great deals on sleeping bags at
These are close out models and will keep the cost down. Look for something rated to 20 degrees and not too heavy (under 3 lbs). You can also get a tent from the above places. Some people hike with tarps or hammocks or even nothing at all and just stay in shelters. This probably would not be a wise idea, however. You should be able to get a close out tent for around $100 (or less). Packs and shoes are generally best bought in stores where you can try them on. This is especially true if you are unsure what you are looking for.
In the end, gear doesn't climb hills for you. You have to haul it up. You've got lots of time to accumulate gear. Keep your eyes open for sales and close outs and you should be able to put together enough gear by March to hike the AT and not spend too much cash.
Well, I'll add my 2 cents worth.
There's usually a few each year who hike for some cause or another. Windex was one who did it in 2001. I suspect her journal is still posted on trailjournals.com if you want to check her out, or contact her about how she got sponsored and some of the things she did while hiking to promote her cause.
Natural food store along the trail. The only one that comes to mind is the Dartmouth Food Co-op in Hanover.
As the other posts have stated, a thru-hike gets to be a mental challenge as much as a physical challenge. It takes a positive attitude to achieve the goal of Katahdin.
Thank you, Everyone for your comments and words of wisdom. They will be heeded!
Weasel, I loved your recommendation of what to tell my daughter about wanting to be the first Autistic to complete the AT..that completing it is a 'first for everyone'. I will tell her that.
It is also good to know that others with Fibromyalgia have hiked the trail. I have heard from my doctor and other docs that walking and excercise will help fibro improve. And OOOH hot springs! I will be sure to hit them and spend some time there, for sure. Thanks for telling me about them.
It's good to know about the trail towns and yes, we plan to do mail drops of the foods we'll need. I'll be preparing and cooking and drying much of our food beforehand. We do that every year right before Hurricane Season, so I've experience in that.
As for a website for Trail Angels, what I was looking for is to have some all along the way "keeping a lookout for us" so that if anything happened, we would be missed and someone could be notified. Also, I was thinking that if they do leave food and stuff for hikers, and they knew about Rachel's dietary restrictions, they could leave something she can eat, because most cookies, breads, candy bars, soda and lunchmeat she can't have. It was just a thougt. We are not planning to depend on them, but as you know, stuff happens.
Thanks for the comments about the trail companions. I realize that folks hike at different paces, so arranging to hike the whole length wouldn't work. Tonight Hubby gave permission tonight for us to go alone, so the planning and training begins in earnest!! I'm still VERY nervous about doing the hike without my hubby, especially the part about hitching into town from the trailheads.
SGT Rock, thanks for the tips on where to look for used gear and the tip of making my own. I'll definitely check out Walmart for the clothes (reading about the types of materials to wear right now). I can sew (recovered my couches by myself) and can make sleeping bags, no problem. I'll need to find somewhere that sells either goose down stuffing or Lite loft or Polygaurd (if you know if something better, let me know).
I read about a way to make a stove out of a soda can once, but lost the website. If anyone knows where it is, please let me know.
Mowgli16, Thanks for your comments about desire, rather than gear getting us to Khatadin. Much appreciated. I've read quite a few journals about the hike and know it is quite a challenge. Determination is key. We have that.
About hiking boots and packs being fitted, that's the 2 items we will not skimp on. Researching the lightest weight, well-balanced packs (leaning towards internal frames) we can find and mid-weight boots (with Gore-Tex layers). About special inserts--we both already wear them and will find boots they fit in comfortably. Any brand suggestions on either boots or packs will be welcomed.
Chris, I just re-read your post and saw the soda can stove mentioned there. Do you know where I can find the plans? So far, I'm not planning to do much cooking at all. Mostly heat water and add to already cooked and dried food-type meals. But that's now and I have no idea how I'll feel 2 weeks into the hike--I may really get cravings for something different.
Also, I appreciated the websites you gave me for buying gear--I'll check them out. Anyone know of a good outfitter in either the Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville or Miami area for packs and / or boots? I'm willing to drive to try stuff on.
Peaks, thanks for your comments as well. Believe it or not, I found Windex's journal a few days a go and had already started reading it. What a coincidence, eh? You mentioned a natural food co-op in Hanover, but didn't include the state...was that NJ?
You all mentioned strength of will and determination to finish this hike. If that's one thing my daughter and I have, it's that--it has been tested by life and will be again during this hike, I've no doubt. We don't take the hike lightly, that's for sure.
I want to share with you all my website and the story of what we've come through searching for a cure for Autism, but am not sure where to put it. When I find out, I will submit the link.
Thanks to all of you for your encouragement and I will be reading the various areas of this forum in the coming months as I research further. Right now I'm reading "Hiking and Backpaking A Complete Guide" by Karen Berger but will check out anything recommended.
A few more thoughts...
(1) Reassure your husband that you won't be "alone". Since most hikers tend to hike at about the same speed (and get faster at about the same rate), you'll make a lot of friends along the way who will look out for you and can make emergency contacts. In '00, a friend had severe tendinitis, and I hitched in with him to the hospital in Johnson City to make sure he was OK, and I wasn't at all unusual.
(2) Hitching for women near the trail isn't the same as other places. You'll find most people VERY friendly and safe. However, it is best if you can hitch with a companion (in addition to your daughter) which may cut down rides but may make you feel more comfortable. When in doubt, go with your gut and turn down a ride. But it's generally safe; your pack is an "emblem" that says "AT Thru Hiker".
(3) Rock's website has stove plans. GOOD ones.
(4) As for outfitters, check for REI locations in you towns. REI is very good, not quite as good as some of the small specialty shops, but nearly at the top. Make sure you ask for staff that are experienced; most of them are. If you join REI (it's a huge coop), you get about 10% back on your purchases at the end of the year, so their prices can be thought of as 10% discounted for members.
(5) Advice to start training NOW is good. Use your daughter's book bags, pack them with 25# (3 gallon milk jugs is right) and start walking with them with regular sneakers, 2-3 miles (1-2 hours) a day. I'd also advise trekking poles, which can be $100 new, a little less used and through Sierra, and (hiker's secret) are also ideal if you use cross-country ski poles, easily found used for 10-15 bucks.
One thing to mention about diet... hiking for extended periods requires a lot of calories. whether you pre pack or buy on route plan to see your appetites double and dont resist it... calories = fuel!
you might find that because of the intense exercise and being away from the city-life that some dietary restrictions may be unneeded. try to talk to a competant dietician before you leave about what adjustments may be useful. Also consider usage of supplements as trail food doesnt always provide a balanced diet.
If you havent done a lot of packing spend some time making trail meals at home to get some experiance at cooking with limited ingrediants and cookware. From the restrictions you listed you may have a problem finding recipes that are loaded with calories, great tasting and nutritious.
You have a lot of carefull planning ahead of you....
I had to come into the office this morning and check my e-mail. Seems the Army is so modernized I can't even do field training without the need for e-mail.
Anyway, here are some sights I think you MUST USE!
1. For materiual to make a sleeping bag, http://www.thru-hiker.com/. They sell stuff in kits for other projects like stuff sacks, down quilts, and Tarptents. I highly reccomend the site, and the kits - great way to save money and have good gear with a little sewing skill. It also has a great section called "The Workshop" that covers other sewing projects.
2. For a lot of DIY (Do it yourself) gear ideas, lighteweight tips, and gear reviews http://www.backpacking.net/ is considered by many "the source" for lightweight hikers. The entire site has more good information than any three books you could buy. You owe it to read through the knowledge nuggets - especially the archived ones. There are so many common sense lightweight tips people in the gear buisness will not tell you.
3. And last of all I want to plug my site http://hikinghq.net. I have tried to review gear that should help, I have totally unbiased performance results for homeade stoves inncluding directions on how to build them, I have some stuff on nutrition, gear selection, and how to live in the woods kind of stuff. Since I write everything, I can answer any question you may have.
Anyway, official e-mail beckons. Enough screwing off at work (on a Saturday).
Originally posted by Mom Lamb
we can find and mid-weight boots (with Gore-Tex layers).
Suggest you reconsider Gore-Tex for boots. It works fine for day hiking, but when Gore-Tex eventually gets wet (and it will on the AT) it does not dry out well. Most (not all) long distance hikers do not use Gore-Tex boots. Of the 3 pair I used during my thru-hike, none were Gore-Tex.
Mom - I want to underscore what Mowgli16 said about physical conditioning. The Trail is strenuous right from the very start; in fact, some people intending to start off at Springer don't even make it to the starting line. I say that not to scare you, but to emphasize that you will want to be in great condition BEFORE you start your hike. Not only will you enjoy it more, but your odds of finishing will go up dramatically. Typically, those who are out of shape at the start find that carrying a boulder of a pack up and down steep mountainsides is so grueling and so unenjoyable that quitting quickly becomes a very attractive option. I know of one (out of shape) woman who started off taking ten deep breaths, then counted off fifty steps, stopped and took ten more deep breaths, and continued in this way until she was in good enough condition to start making some real mileage. She eventually did make it to Katahdin, averaging about 12 miles per day! Unfortunately, most people don't have her determination or depth of commitment.
There are lots of ways to get yourself in good shape before the hike begins, but one of the best is to hike near your house with weights in your pack. Start with short walks and minimal weight and gradually increase the distance and the amount of pack weight. By the time you are close to your AT start date, you should be carrying a full pack weight over a minimum of 6-8 hilly miles. As others have said, if you don't enjoy this kind of training, you probably won't enjoy the AT either.
I want to wish you the best of luck - there are some of us out here who are pulling for you!
I essentially agree with The Hog, but not entirely. Yes, get as much conditioning as you can in advance, and walking with a pack is one good way, especially if you have hills near you.
But just because you're not in tiptop shape doesn't mean you shouldn't start. Yes, Georgia is nasty; the trail goes straight up and straight down a lot of the time. But if you don't start with unrealistic expectations, i.e. plan initially for 7-8 miles a day, you will find that you increasingly get into condition by the trail itself. In doing this, it's important to keep your "FSO weight" - "from the skin out", i.e. pack, food, water, fuel, clothing, boots - as low as possible (shoot for 40# and accept 45#, you'll get rid of the unneeded things fast!), but you don't need to be buffed to hell and gone to walk it...I should know!
As for "making it" tricks, that's a good thread idea. I'll start a new one on that line. Music works for me.
Echoing on what others have said.
1. Start physical conditioning now. Sure you can start getting into shape on the trail, but that is one more big thing you have to adjust to in adverse conditions. If you get used to physical chalenge before the trail (at least in some part) then that is one more thing you must learn to deal with on the trail.
IMHO, physical challenge is something you will never overcome, you will probably just push yourself harder once you reach a certain level. Hiking isn't about overcomming it is learning to deal with stuff. Rain, mud, gravity, hunger, fear, loneliness, heat, cold, insects, etc, etc are things that cannot be overcome, just delt with. The more you learn to deal with, the easier hiking will be. The only one I have trouble with is loneliness - if I could just get the wife to hike I could deal with it :D
2. Keep you pack weight low. I know working with my kids, heck even myself sometimes, pack weight can creep back up on you while you don't look. I can make a weekend summer pack weigh less than 15 pounds, but then I throw in some canned treats, a book, some other nit nack I don't need, etc and before you know it, your up 10 extra pounds. Shake down and learn what not to carry - leave stuff behind you think you don't need, and if you do fine, then you really don't need it.
BTW, shake down hiking and training can be the same thing, and can be fun.
I think Sgt. Rock has hit the nail on the head yet again.
One benefit of doing a bit of pretrip conditionning that is frequently overlooked: Getting used to being sweaty and tired. If, say, a couple of months before a trip you start a moderate exercise program (something that makes you breath hard and sweat a good amount), you begin to get used to the physical feelings that you will experience when on the trail. Not completely, but at least in part. If I lay around like a tourist on a beach for a month, and then try to exert myself, I find the sweat somehow discomforting.
Many people have fairly sedentary lifestyles and still seem to manage to complete the trail or large portions of it. This seems to indicate that mental strength (or spiritual, if you will) plays a greater role than physical strength for doing long distance hikes, at least in locales like the AT or PCT. However, if you are not used to physical exertion on a regular basis, it will make the first few weeks (or a month) on trail a lot harder than it should be. If you are starting from nothing, I'd try just going for an hours walk around town after work or during lunchtime. Take stairs rather than elevators. Take short weekend hikes in a local park. Work up slowly.
First of all-Great to see some one with Autisum that wants to thru hike!
I work with kids with Autisum (and also, my sister is autisic) and I love taking them out for day hikes. The kids love it! I have them carry their own pack with about 10 lbs of weight including water and snacks. Also serves a different purpose as well. Similar to the calming effect of wearing a weighted vest.
One 12 year old boy that I worked with loved to go on hikes that were between 7-10 miles. He was my training buddy for my 2002 hike. He would always ask if we were going to go hike everytime I worked with him. His mom loved it cause he was much calmer if we went for a hike, as he was a very hyper boy.
I hope you and your daughter have a great time on your hike!