Although I’m farting around back at home temporarily, I’m glad I’m giving the Appalachian Trail another go. I’ve missed the trail and all the people you meet along the way. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect the second time around, but I’ve noticed several differences between hiking in 2016 and this year, in 2017.
We were blessed with solar storms last year. So far, this year has been pretty wet, which is good given the drought some parts of the South are experiencing, but not so pleasant to hike in. The Smokys weren’t Smoky at all last year, but this year, the views were limited. You could just stay in town or mellow out at the shelter until a thunderstorm ran its course last year. This year, you’d be running short on supplies and days if you did so.
On a minor note, the privies so far have a bit more “exposure” than usual. Generally, there rarely is a door to begin with, but several of the pots have been shifted from the privacy wall to, well, everyone’s visibility. Needless to say I’ve been waving and talking to people as I poop to make everyone else feel less comfortable than myself! We’ve been giving reviews to pass the time.
The hikers this year are pretty hesitant to sleep in the shelters. The fear of rodents, spiders, snakes, and norovirus (although all possible encounters), has a tight hold on this group. Last year, you had to fight for a spot. This year, we’ve been able to stretch out. The only time the fear of illness and creepy crawlies is hindered in these folks is when it’s dumping rain. Which, as I mentioned, has been happening more frequently this year. Although this coincides with there being fewer people in the shelters to begin with, there has also been a lot less snoring this year!
Speaking of the hikers, the crowd this year seems a bit more reserved than last year. To be fair, the bubble ahead or behind us could be different, and it is still very early! Currently, it feels a bit like high school where people are forming into cliques and if you aren’t a part of said clique, you are granted a stink eye for saying “hello”. 2016 was quite the party crowd, and also a very “open arms” crew! The 2017 crowd thus far seems like all work and no play. I’m hoping that changes soon, because it’s been pretty dull out there.
There seems to be changes with the age groups too. Generally, the trail consists mainly of early 20-somethings and retirees. Those groups are still around, but I noticed more people in their late 20’s and into their 30’s; people you see less of since people in that age group are usually hitting huge life milestones, like graduating college, starting a career, starting a family, etc. I’m not opposed to it, by the way. Hell, I’m in that age group, it’s great!
Last year, I was completely battered at the start. I was out of shape, overloaded with gear, and my feet were covered in blisters since my shoes couldn’t handle the swell. I was used to being passed by much faster hikers as I struggled up steep climbs. This year, I started in much better shape, adjusted my gear from a 30 lb. base weight to carrying 18 lbs. total (which included a full food bag and 2 liters of water). I also didn’t get a single blister on my feet until mile 70. Up until my ankle started bugging me, I was passing most of the people on the trail, and not to gloat, it kind of felt good! Ego aside, I need to slow my roll when I return. I’m determined to finish and head to the Pacific Crest Trail next year.
Thanks for reading!