Tag Archives: Appalachian Trail

The Perfect Job?

Help Wanted: Beer Drinking AT Hiker

Yes, you read that right. Despite the recent surge in unemployment, there is a position available that requires hiking the Appalachian Trail and drinking beer; and it includes a salary as well as a title. The title would be Chief Hiking Officer (CHO) for the Devils Backbone Brewing Company (DBBC).

Headquartered in Lexington, Virginia, DBBC’s Basecamp Brewpub is located right off the Appalachian Trail around Mile 842. Over the years they’ve hosted thousands of thru-hikers. Per the company’s COO, Hayes Humphreys, these hikers have affected the brewing company, in a good way. “Those folks really understand how life-altering it is to slow down and take in what’s going on around you, and they’ve taught us a lot about the benefits of taking a break from the pace of daily life. So, these days, we refer to our company as “Slow by Nature” and we are committed to protecting that lifestyle.”

Devils Backbone has partnered with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy for years, but obviously the creation of a Chief Hiking Officer takes things to a whole other level. I asked Humphreys why the company is making such an investment. He responded, “The inspiration for the Chief Hiking Officer came from the thru-hikers and their stories. The Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike is a life-changing adventure, available only to those with the mental fortitude to complete the 2,200 mile journey. And as we’ve learned at Devils Backbone, the AT isn’t just a hiking trail, and it doesn’t just affect the lives of the hikers. The AT is a collection of communities, from Georgia to Maine, full of people who support the hikers in lots of little ways, and who, in return, find their own lives enriched by the people they meet.”

The Job Itself

DBBC has created the CHO position with the 2021 AT season in mind. The qualifications are fairly straightforward. Per their website, “You’ve gotta love hiking and beer. We mean really love it.”

That’s all I needed to know, but Humphreys added a bit more detail. “So, we are looking for a Chief Hiking Officer who loves hiking and can be a voice for responsible hiking and protecting the trail with sustainable recreation practices like Leave No Trace. We also hope the CHO will help us celebrate the communities and institutions along the trail who make the journey possible for so many hikers every year. Telling stories is part of the trip, and we hope to highlight some great places to drink a beer, eat a meal, and recharge along the way. We’ve learned that spending time with thru-hikers prompts reflection and restoration, and looking around the world today, I think we would all benefit from some time spent with these amazing people.”

Beyond the basic (hiking, beer drinking) qualifications, the folks at DBBC have some specifics in mind. They are looking for someone that is likely to succeed. If you apply to be the CHO, plan on being able to show hiking/adventure experience. The ability to share the adventure on social media is another plus. And, of course, a keen interest in drinking beer won’t hurt either. In fact, the successful candidate is likely to be involved in “product research” along the way.

As far as a schedule, you’d be expected to “hike your own hike,” with the CHO and “Home Office” working out details for events as the season progresses.

The Benefits

As with any job, there are not only responsibilities, but also benefits. The benefits of being CHO include daily exercise, no time clock, rarely seeing your supervisor and never being stuck in a cubicle. If you’re hired, gear and transportation to the trailhead will be provided. During days off in town there will be access to your new employer’s product. I have to imagine that there will be plenty of DBBC swag to be had as well. All this and did I mention a salary? That’s right. There’s a $20,000 stipend included as well.

I’ll say it for you: “Holy crap! How do I apply??”

First, some bad news. Due to legal guidelines, they have to limit applications to residents of the specific states where their beer is sold. So, if you live in Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia or West Virginia, you are in luck.

To start, Go to the DBBC website and fill out an simple application along with sending in a 60 second video explaining why you’d be the best beer drinking hiker they could hire. For the top applicants, there are more steps to determine the best candidate, including a background check. Here’s the fine print.

Applications will be accepted until July 31, 2020. Remember, being prompt always looks good to a prospective employer. Don’t bother stating, “I was born to do this job!” as I’m using that line and will be sending in my video this week.

Trail Report: The Foothills Trail

With the COVID-19 issue making a long thru-hike impossible at this time, I thought it might be nice to look at a possible, shorter option to consider once restrictions are lifted. The scenery is reminiscent of the southern AT, but with the lower elevations, the hike is possible at any time of the year. Between the climate, a distance that doesn’t require a resupply and no shelters to congregate in, this trail would be a good, possibly “safer” choice, no matter when life starts getting back to normal.

The Foothills Trail runs from Oconee State Park to Table Rock State Park, both in South Carolina. In between, the path meanders through Sumter National Forest, Nantahala National Forest, land protected by Duke Energy Corporation, and Gorges State Park in North Carolina. While the “hills” aren’t as high as some of the Appalachian Mountains, they are often just as steep. The elevations encountered run from just over 1,000 feet to the highest point in South Carolina, the peak of Mount Sassafras at 3,554 feet.

Every year thousands of people start hiking north from Springer Mountain with every intention of walking to Maine. Sadly, most do not make it. Amazingly, a significant portion quit the trail in the first 100 miles. Some were woefully unprepared and some didn’t realize that thru-hiker life just wasn’t for them. For these folks, a solid “shakedown” hike may have saved their AT attempt or, at least given them the knowledge to not disrupt their life for a walk in the woods that only lasted a week or so.

Part of my background involves being certified as both a personal trainer and a running coach. One of the more useful concepts I took away from that education was the Specificity Principle. Basically, the concept is that the most useful training is directly tied to your goals. Do you want to be a marathon runner? Your base training should be mostly running long. Want to be a better hitter in baseball? Worry less about lifting weights and spend more time in the batting cage. It’s a pretty simple concept but one that best prepares both your body and mind for your goal task.

Based on this principle, what would be the best training for a long backpacking trip on the AT? Why that would be a not quite so long backpacking trip. Specifically, what type of backpacking trip? Why one that in many ways mimics the AT. To that end, I would suggest trying the Foothills Trail that runs mostly in South Carolina with some time spent in North Carolina.

Why Hike the Foothills Trail?

The Foothills Trail is a great hike for a number of reasons. The southern Appalachians are scenic, with plenty of rivers, waterfalls, and some great views. In many regards, much of the hiking is indeed reminiscent of the southern AT. This shorter hike can very much help prepare you for the conditions to come on the AT and let you see what the challenges are, before making that life changing commitment to thru-hike. The 77-mile length is a great test that took me five days to complete, hiking in late February/early March.

Terrain

Do not let the lower elevations fool you; this trail is not easy. Per my GPS watch, I covered a total of 78.8 miles between the trail, a short detour, and wandering around campsites. Walking from Oconee to Table Rock State Parks, elevation gain was 15,433 feet and loss was 14,913. This worked out to an average change in elevation of 385 feet/mile. The AT, as a whole, averages a change of 237 feet/mile. At one point “Heartbreak Hill” climbed at a rate of 1,600 feet/mile. For me, the real heartbreak was giving all that climb back over the next half mile, then doing it all again. That is some great training for the PUDS (pointless up and downs) on the AT.

The footpath itself is well constructed and well maintained. The occasional flattish stretches are a joy to walk, but there is no getting around the power of gravity on the hills.

Even in the damp spring, I was able to rock hop any creek that wasn’t already bridged.

Getting There

The trail can be hiked in either direction, though starting at Oconee State Park puts off the biggest and steepest hills until the food bag has lost much of its weight.

Oconee State Park from Atlanta: take I-85N to US 76W to US 28W to State Park Road.

Table Rock State Park from Ashville: take I-26S to US 25S to SC-11S to park entrance.

Shuttles can be arranged through both local outfitters and a list of volunteer drivers. Both can be found at the Foothills Trail website. Overnight parking is available at either end by paying a $5/night parking fee.

Water

Like much of the southern AT, water is plentiful. There are numerous streams, impressive waterfalls and a large lake along the route. The Foothills Trail Guidebook points out all water options and I rarely carried more than a liter at a time. As always, filter any water before drinking it.

Climate and Weather

First wildflower of the season – March 2.

The Foothills Trail is not significantly farther north and generally stays 1,000 feet or more lower than the AT does through Georgia. Nearby Pickens, South Carolina, averages a low of 30 and high of 52 in January. By watching the weather, the trail can be hiked in late fall, early spring and even through the winter; perfect for that decision-making tune-up hike. Rainfall totals 53 inches annually and is spread evenly through the year. Snow is rare and typically doesn’t last. Even on Mount Sassafras, less than 9 inches of snow falls in a typical winter.

During my hike, there was a cold snap that brought nighttime temperatures down near 20. Even with that, the days were pleasant.

On the other hand, summer hiking can be hot, humid, and buggy.

Camping

Overlooking the upper reaches of Lake Jocassee.

This is one area where the Foothills Trail and the AT differ significantly. There are 262 shelters on the AT. Other than one small “emergency” cave, there are none on the Foothills Trail. Bring the tent or hammock. There are a number of great spots to camp, though, many designed and built as Eagle Scout projects. Nearly all have flat spots for tents, a fire ring, and a nearby water source. Quite a few have benches and provisions to bear bag your food. I hit the jackpot camping along Lake Jocassee. Gorges State Park maintains campsites with sand tent pads, grills, and picnic tables. Within the national forests, camping is permitted throughout and there were no fees at any of the locations I camped.

The other main difference is that in early spring the Foothills Trail is not crowded with campers. I camped alone at 3 of 4 locations and actually went two full days without seeing another person.

Resupply Options

As a training hike, be prepared to carry all the food needed for the trip. It is possible to cache supplies near a road crossing, but it complicates logistics significantly. Think of the trail as a “short” 100-Mile Wilderness.

Summary

If you’re not sure if you really want to hike the AT, consider the Foothills Trail as a test. If you want to train for an upcoming AT attempt, keep the principle of specificity in mind and try a training hike on the Foothills Trail. Or, if you just want to get out in a beautiful natural area for an early or late season hike you can complete in a week, try the Foothills Trail.

Plan on spending 4-7 days on a well-designed, well-maintained, well-marked trail through some gorgeous, yet challenging terrain. The hike is not unlike the southern AT. The difficulty is similar. The surrounding forests and streams will seem familiar. The white blazes are typically easy to follow. The main difference I found was the lack of other hikers. If you finish this trail wanting more, there’s a good chance a successful AT thru-hike could be in your future.

Of course, for me, the best part of the trail was the seclusion and lack of shelters, so I’ll continue to hold off on the AT for now.

For additional planning information, check out the Foothills Trail Conservancy. In addition to a helpful website, they have created the official map of the Foothills Trail and a Foothills guidebook. At 7 ounces, the guidebook is a tad heavy, but includes maps and turn-by-turn directions in both directions.

Appalachian Trail or Colorado Trail?

If you’ve ever backpacked at all, you’ve probably thought about hiking the most famous long distance hiking trail in the world, the Appalachian Trail, or AT. Of course, that thought might have been, “no way in hell,” but you thought about it nonetheless.  I’ve thought about it as well. I’ve even gone so far as to do a little research on what hiking the AT would entail. Beyond a little Internet study I’ve read a couple books about hiking the trail. As of right now, my Kindle contains 24 books written by successful AT thru-hikers.

Luckily for you, there is no need to read that many books. While the writing styles and abilities vary considerably, the information in the book is surprisingly consistent. Nearly every book makes the same main points. Here’s my take on every book ever written about the AT.

  1. The author was woefully unprepared for the rigors encountered.
  2. The hiking was much more difficult than imagined.
  3. The shelters were often crowded, dirty and full of mice.
  4. Privies along the way can be nasty.
  5. It rained…. A lot. Plan on being wet for days at a time.

    View on the AT

    View on the AT

  6. At times, the mosquitoes or other bugs were unrelenting.
  7. There’s a significant chance you’ll get Lyme disease and/or West Nile disease.
  8. There are some amazing views, but much of the time you’re hiking in a “green tunnel.”
  9. Six months of hiking can get surprisingly difficult on a psychological basis; also difficult on any relationships back home.
  10. There will be tough times when it takes tremendous willpower to keep from quitting.
  11. It was a wonderful experience.

And these are people that finished. Not many books have been written by those that quit the trail. You have to wonder if their viewpoint would tilt more towards negativity.

As an alternative to what was starting to appear to me to be a 2,000 mile plus slog, I started looking at the Colorado Trail; 500 miles through mountains from Denver to Durango. For me, at least while I’m sitting in my warm, dry house, the Colorado Trail (CT) offers the challenges and benefits of a long distance hike while avoiding some of the hardships of the AT.

  1. Only about 150 people attempt the CT each year (compared to 3,000 on the AT), so crowds on the trail or at prime camp areas should be non-existent. (Downside – Don’t get hurt; you may be on your own. Fix that snapped femur with duct tape and a stick. You did bring duct tape, didn’t you?)
  2. There are no shelters to be disappointed in. (Downside – There’s no shelters to use for things like…..shelter. When it rains, you’re getting wet.
  3. There are no privies to be disappointed in. (Bonus – your leg muscles will get stronger from squatting.)
  4. Much less rain and bugs. (Hard to find a downside there, other than it may snow instead.)
  5. The highest point on the AT is Clingman’s Dome at 6,625 feet. The average elevation of the CT is over 10,000 feet. You’ll spend significant time above tree line with amazing views nearly every day. (Downside – There’s a lot less oxygen up there. At its high point, 13,271 feet, there’s  40% less air than at sea level. Also, when it does rain/snow that high, there’s typically lightning and you’re the tallest thing around.)

    Common view in Colorado

    Common view in Colorado

  6. The plan is to be done in 5 weeks. A long hike to be sure, but short enough to see light at the end of the tunnel during a bad day. (Assuming the bad day isn’t Day 2.) Of course, that’s still plenty of time to see how I look with a neck beard. Plus, at my age, that may even be enough time to grow a nice crop of ear hair. We’ll have to wait and see on that one, but I’ll let you know if I’m successful.

And, it would be hard to beat singing John Denver songs to myself as I hike in the Rockies; provided I can suck in enough air to do anything beyond panting and wheezing.

 “I guess he’d rather be in Colorado
He’d rather spend his time out where the sky looks like a pearl after a rain…”

John Denver

While it appears the decision has been made, perhaps a test hike on the AT would sway me. Here’s how it went.