Tag Archives: AT

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.

Yea, I walked (on) the Appalachian Trail

Over 3,000 people attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail (AT) each year. Generally, only about a quarter of those actually finish the 2,000 mile hike from Georgia to Maine (or vice versa). About the same percentage give up by the time they reach Neel Gap, just over 30 miles from the southern starting point and home of the famous Mountain Crossings Outfitter. The reasons they quit are many, but often center on being poorly prepared, poorly equipped, or the hike “just isn’t fun anymore.”

The experienced staff at Mountain Crossings has saved many a thru-hiker by way of their pack “shakedown service.” Hikers that stagger the first 2-4 days from Springer Mountain with packs full of unneeded (like jars of mayonnaise) or overly heavy items (iron skillets) can get a new lease on their hike’s life when a successful thru-hiker goes through their load; getting rid of all non-essentials and selling replacements for poorly chosen gear. Each year, Mountain Crossings helps ship literally thousands of pounds of extra gear back to hiker’s homes while the hikers themselves continue north with a significantly lighter pack and wallet.Mountain Crossings

As I was considering a thru-hike in 2014, I thought a test run on the AT last fall would be a prudent idea. Rather than carry extra weight for any length of time, I thought I’d start my hike at Mountain Crossings. Packed for 4 days, I gave my 30 pound pack to Squirrel (not his given name) for inspection.

With the gear being fairly lightweight, Squirrel didn’t find a tremendous amount of weight savings. Rather than carry a 1.2 ounce fleece pillow cover, he pointed out that the hood on my rain jacket could be stuffed with extra clothes to make a nice rubbery pillow. Nothing lulls you to sleep like laying your face down on coated nylon. Squirrel thought he hit the mother lode of savings in the toiletries when he spotted a mirror. When I stated that I needed it to put in my contacts, Squirrel suggested Lasik as a weight saving procedure. Unfortunately, none of the staff there could perform the procedure on me that day, so I was stuck with the weight. He also pointed out that my 12 ounce Kindle was a “luxury” item, but with camping alone and over 14 hours of darkness each night, it stayed in the “essential” pile.

Squirrel did provide some excellent advice on packing. By splitting up my tent poles and body, the body could be compressed into a smaller size. In addition, with a new waterproof compression sack purchased for my sleeping bag, he shrunk it from the size of a volleyball down close to the size of a ping pong ball. Pretty impressive, especially if I’m able to ever get the bag back into the compression sack. Squirrel also recommended the purchase of a new pack rain cover.

Although I was carrying the lightest option for water purification, pills, Squirrel enticed me with a new, lightweight water filter. Water could be rendered safe much quicker than the pills, and with the add-on straw feature, I could drink straight out of a mud puddle if so desired. Sold! I finished the “shakedown” with my pack a few ounces heavier than when I arrived, but my wallet $100 lighter.

When the time came to stash my car at the parking lot ½ mile away, I received my first “trail magic.” Squirrel’s co-worker (Chipmunk?) offered to meet there and drive me back to Mountain Crossings to begin the hike without needing to walk along the road; a great start.

The day was cool, but sunny. Heading out the back of the outfitters, I followed a trail winding up the mountain, eager to start following the white blazes that would lead me as far as I wanted to go; all the way to Maine if I decided to.  Fifteen minutes later, eagerness was being replaced with apprehension as I had yet to see my first blaze. This certainly wasn’t what I was used to. At Zaleski State Forest in Ohio, there are spots where the markings are thick enough to see the next six blazes at one time. After seeing one faded blaze in the first half hour, I broke down and checked the location on my phone’s AT app. (Yes, there’s an app for that.) It only took half the battery supply in my phone to pinpoint it, but my location was indeed on the AT, and going in the proper direction.

The trail itself is rocky and regularly contains root tripping hazards. Since it was late November though, the perils were nicely covered by a blanket of fallen leaves; safely out of sight and out of mind. Once up on the first mountain, the views were absolutely amazing.Day 1 view

The topography was slightly different than Ohio as well. Guidebooks for Buckeye backpack trails describe 300 foot elevation changes as grim, epic or lung busters. In this area of the AT, it is not unusual, in a bit over two miles, to climb 1,000 feet, drop back down 1,000 feet, and be looking at another 1,000+ foot climb. A great workout for the calves.

First high view

A few miles into the hike I ran into a southbound thru-hiker. Weed n Feed was stopped for a snack with his dog, Blunt. His favorite part of the trail was the Grayson Highlands of Virginia, where there are wild horses living along the trail. He had a visible reaction when I asked about mosquitoes during the summer. His action plan during one stretch was to never stop walking during the day and immediately set up his tent when reaching a camp area. He’d then spend the rest of his waking hours in the tent, even cooking by just sticking a hand outside to operate his stove. It sounded less than fun.

By late afternoon the wind had picked up and the temperature was dropping. I made Low Gap Shelter with about an hour of daylight left. I left my pack on the picnic table and quickly set up my tent. No mud puddles were to be found, so the filtered water had to come from a nearby clear creek. Once back to the pack to start dinner, I noticed a mouse had beaten me there, chewing through my food bag and a ziplock bag to help himself to some of my trail mix. Great. The remaining undamaged food was hung up in the trees for the evening.

By the time dinner, a lovely entrée of freeze dried imitation Alpo, was finished, the sun was down. Being as it was cold, dark and too windy for a fire, I retired to the tent with my Kindle and a flask. It was 6 PM. The flask was to last three nights, so there was some tough rationing ahead.

At 9 PM the flask was empty.  The Kindle became my sole entertainment. To stay in the hiking mood, the tablet was loaded with several books written by thru-hikers. Reading one book, I absorbed page after page of despair caused by hiking through continuous rain and flooding. It must have been extraordinarily tiring. I know I got tired of reading about it. Eventually, the warmth of the sleeping bag and the song of the wind (and possibly the contents of the flask) lulled me to sleep.

After a full night’s sleep, I lay in the tent, waiting for daylight when I heard the first drops of rain. As I crawled out of the tent, it was raining hard and a heavy, cold fog had moved in, reducing visibility

Day 2 View

to about 50 feet.

Stuffing my wet gear into the pack I thought, “This isn’t fun anymore.” I wonder, could you spot those wild horses from a car?