View Full Version : Hartford Courant article on thru-hikers "Trail Dawg & Spare Pocket"

08-11-2004, 15:20
Good read.


By Steve Grant
The Hartford Courant (http://javascript<b></b>:NewWindow(%20'FIISrcDetails','?from=article&ids=hfct');void(0);)
August 11, 2004

PHOTO 1: ON A CONNECTICUT section of the Appalachian Trail, Mark ``Trail Dawg'' Huckeba, 26, of Atlanta, foreground, and Clayton ``Pacemaker'' Chiles, 19, of Bethlehem, Pa., cover about 20 miles a day and started from Spring Mountain, Ga., April 4. Huckeba posts updates on www.traildawg.com (http://www.traildawg.com/).

PHOTO 2: KAREN ANDERSON, 43, of Canton, Ohio, started the Appalachian Trail on April 15, a year after being diagnosed with cancer; she lost her left breast to the disease. Anderson said it made her realize "life's short.'' Her trail name, "spare pocket," refers to the extra storage space in her bra.

Getting long-distance hikers on the Appalachian Trail to talk is easy. As they walk by, offer them one of the basic hiker food groups -- say, a granola bar -- and proffer a cold soda, too. Plunk. Down they sit; out spill the stories.

Brian Arms, 23, of Rochester, Minn., was walking the trail in Kent on Tuesday, in his fifth month of hiking the trail from Springer Mountain in Georgia, where he began, to Mount Katahdin in Maine, where he plans to finish within two months.

Taking a break from college, he in no time acclimated himself to the sometimes zany culture of the AT, as the trail is known in the hiking community. Downing his second granola bar, Arms explained trail protocol when a bug lands in your bowl of rice. You eat it.

``More protein,'' he smiled. ``No big deal.''

Those walking the entire 2,174-mile AT are called thru-hikers, and about 1,500 left Springer Mountain this spring with hopes of reaching Mount Katahdin before the snows flies again. They wear backpacks that often weigh more than 40 pounds, and typically walk 12 to 15 or more miles a day. They burn a lot of calories, often more than 5,000 a day, and when they talk, they often talk about food and shelter, elemental things. But mostly food.

What about those rumors of thru-hikers picking up bits of food on the ground and eating them?

``Picking stuff up off the ground? The other day I found, like, a dried apricot on the trail and popped it in,'' Arms said. Popped it in his mouth.

At a trailside park in Pennsylvania, thru-hikers like to take what is called the half-gallon challenge, a measure of appetite excess in which the point is to see how quickly a famished hiker can eat an entire half-gallon of ice cream.

``I ate mine in 39 minutes, 20 seconds. I had cookies and cream. Some people went back and got a cheeseburger and fries,'' Arms said.

Several hours later, Clayton Chiles of Bethlehem, Pa., ambled along the trail, which closely follows the Housatonic River as it passes through Kent in Litchfield County. He, too, was proud to have taken the half-gallon challenge. He finished his half-gallon in 1 hour, 5 minutes and 32 seconds. ``Vanilla was the way to go. Anything with chunks in it slows you down.''

``The secret is to eat a hamburger with it, or french fries,'' he said. ``I hiked 7 miles afterward.''

Karen Anderson, 43, of Canton, Ohio, passed through Kent at mid-morning. She immediately volunteered that her trail name -- thru-hikers often are given whimsical names by hiking companions -- is ``spare pocket.'' She began hiking in Georgia during April, one year after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and subsequently had a mastectomy.

``I use my extra bra space as an extra pocket. That is how I got the name, spare pocket,'' she said. It struck her, she said, that if she did not hike the AT it would be ``the only regret I was going to have. So I said I better not put it off.''

She's lost 40 pounds hiking so far. And Connecticut, she's already discovered, seems to live up to its image as a wealthy and pricey state. ``My first mile into Connecticut I came upon a man walking the trail in a business suit, talking on a cellphone. I thought, `Welcome to Connecticut.''' That image was reinforced for her when she paid $4 for an egg salad sandwich in a Kent restaurant. ``I was shocked,'' she said.

Yes, about the food. Her signature trail sandwich is a multi-grain bagel -- backpackers love bagels because they are nearly indestructible, especially if they are stale -- layered with peanut butter, pepperoni and chocolate chip cookies, all of which just happen to remain palatable without refrigeration.

``It's good, man,'' she said.

Almost everybody has a bear story. Jim Hankerson, 38, of Aledo, Texas, recalled the night he and some fellow thru-hikers were camped in the Virginia mountains and, in the middle of the night, were awoken by hikers carrying torches, making menacing noises, and approaching their lean-to. The hikers with torches somehow assumed Hankerson and the other sleeping hikers were bears and were trying to drive them from the shelter.

The torch-bearers got to sleep on the ground under the open sky.

Hankerson, a U.S. Army Reserve member who served a year in Iraq before returning home in March, said he finds life in the woods quite manageable. ``As hot as it gets here, it's nothing compared to Iraq,'' he said. ``This is easy. Iraq is hard.''

Gossip works its way up and down the trail, and one of the hot stories this year is the hiker who kept a gallon water pouch filled with whiskey, which he tapped throughout the day. He lasted until Virginia, Chiles recalled.

Mark Huckeba of Atlanta was not among those taking the half-gallon challenge -- he dried his own fruits and many other foods for his meals but, still, he could not resist a food analogy in his story.

He took something called the 40-mile challenge, in which an AT hiker is to hike a 40-mile section of the trail that ends in Damascus, Va., within a 24-hour period. He did it. After: ``Your feet feel like hamburger,'' he said.

The hikers who have made it to Connecticut are but a fraction of those who started in Georgia; the dropout rate on AT thru-hikes is high. And most of those who have hiked the 53.7 miles from Sherman through Salisbury have already passed through. Goldenrod is in bloom now, and the downside of summer at hand.

Those still hiking are a mellow bunch who know that physically they can make it the rest of the way if they want to. They've already made it through storms, cold and high heat.

Jan Ealy, a veteran long-distance hiker, said the trick is to realize you cannot control the weather or what life on the trail will bring. ``Let it go, let it flow,'' he suggested, and a long hike on the AT will be rewarding.

Whether hard or easy, calorie-infused or not, life on the AT can be almost addictive.

Janet Clark of Grafton, N.H., passing through Kent Tuesday afternoon, said she already had hiked the entire AT once before. This year, she met two friends in the Smoky Mountains on April 20 with plans to hike the AT for 10 days.

``And here I am in Connecticut,'' she said. ``I just couldn't leave the trail. It had been eight years since I thru-hiked it. You have to come back and get a fix once in a while.'' She chugged a Coke and was on her way.