The Search for Food

As a runner, I’ve never had to be concerned with the types of food I’d need to carry on a run. What I eat before and after? Sure, to some extent. But not during the run. Even my seven marathons featured nothing more than a gel or two. Hydration was (and is) the big deal, not food.

And that’s yet another key difference I’ve found between hiking and running. For hikes that last half a day or longer, food (in addition to hydration, of course) becomes a consideration. And within that primary consideration lurks a couple of others, namely weight-to-calorie ratio and whether or not to bring a stove and cook. And, as with every other aspect of hiking, opinions are legion. I’ve read many posts and comments, and gleaned from them all, even though I’m still weeks away from my first overnight.

I’ve also found that the appetites I’ve generated while hiking differ from those of running. A sweet sticky GU packet sounds so good on a long run, but I’m learning that my hiking cravings are different. I’ve done mostly half-day hikes so far, so using my running experience as a guide, I figured that just throwing a couple of Clif bars in my hip belt would suffice. And it has, to a point. A Clif bar is a decent snack at the mid-point of a 6-8 mile hike. But on my trip out to the AT last Wednesday for an 8-miler, I found the Clif bar I had brought along to be wholly unsatisfying. It was minty and sweet, and I found myself craving something salty. I choked it down with several shots of my Nuun electrolyte drink, and vowed to do better for myself next time.

So for my next half-day hike (or possibly a full day; I’m due for one) I’m looking at bringing a little of both sweet and salty. Having choices is good. Maybe I’ll create a GORP mix to try. Or grab some jerky and jelly beans. Regardless, I’ve reached the point where I need to start taking my hiking food choices much more seriously.

In an interesting and ironic parallel, the protagonist in the post-apocalyptic novel I’m writing is always searching for food. So maybe my search for the best hiking snacks will make me a more enlightened and effective writer…


Southbound out of Monson

Yesterday I decided, on the spur of the moment, to take a quick trip out to the Monson trailhead for a morning southbound hike on the Appalachian Trail.

I was surprised at the difference in the terrain between the AT on the north side of Route 15 and that on the south side. Much easier going south. Granted, the north side is the Hundred Mile Wilderness, but still…

It was a nice cool morning for the third week of July (sunny, breezy 63 degrees), and I took my time and enjoyed the greenery and the solitude. Unlike my northbound trip into the HMW where I passed so many thru-hikers I thought the trail was a superhighway, I only encountered two hikers, a pair going SOBO only a half-mile from the trailhead when I was nearly finished. So the first 7.5 miles of my eight mile out-and-back journey blessed me with sweet solitude. At the two and six mile marks I broke out of the tree canopy and was treated to this view:


And it’s always a strange disconnect when I’m communing with nature and come upon a man-made structure in the wilderness. I did appreciate the bridge through the swamp, even though a previous windy day caused me to do the limbo on one end of it:



I was disappointed that, like my northbound morning hike last month, I saw no wildlife except for birds. I’ve seen a black bear and dozens of deer in the road less than a quarter mile from my house, but twice now I’ve driven 75 minutes to hike in the woods and have seen zip. Maybe I should try dropping Twinkies along the trail next time. That might get the bears out…

(Note: That last bit was a joke. Under no circumstances would I ever feed a bear human food. And people who do so should be shot along with the bear when it needs to be put down for becoming aggressive around humans in an attempt to take food from them)

Okay, enough wildlife preservation talk. Back to happy hiking. Overall, I enjoyed a nice stroll over easier terrain than that in the Hundred Mile Wilderness. A relaxing way to spend a morning, for sure.


Notes: In another glaring similarity to my AT hike a month ago, my feet were pretty sore at the end. And I’m totally to blame. I still have the on-a-mission runner’s mentality while hiking. I don’t sit when I stop for hydration breaks. I don’t ever take my pack off. And given that my feet aren’t accustomed to the terrain and to spending upwards of four hours at a stretch with my body-plus-pack weight on them, it shouldn’t be surprising that they’re barking at me when I finish. Longer section and thru-hikers are afforded the opportunity of ramping up their mileage gradually, acclimating their feet to the pounding until they can bang out impressive daily miles without limping. This newbie hiker, doing short hikes, isn’t given the luxury of days. So I need to force myself to take a nice break every couple of hours and remove my pack and sit, or my poor dogs will never survive a full day hike. A leisurely 8 mile run is 70-75 minutes on my feet over smooth asphalt or groomed trail. An eight mile hike on the AT here is 3.5 hours over rocks, roots and elevation changes. I need to remind myself when I’m out there: It’s not the number of miles, it’s the time on my feet!

Also, my Osprey Kestrel 28 is still a wonder to me. In the short time I’ve been a hiker, I’ve grown to love how this pack carries. I might be tempted to do an overnight with it, and just lash a bunch of stuff to the outside, Beverly Hillbillies style…

Trade 280 for 550? You Bet!

As I make ready for a day hike on the Appalachian Trail this weekend, the urgency to cover more of the 280+ miles of the AT here in Maine has become greater as of late. Reason? A potential move to Virginia, the state that boasts the highest number of AT miles (550) of the fourteen states through which the trail passes.

And it’s not just the actual AT miles that intrigue me. It’s the dozens and dozens of other trails that cross over and run up to (and sometimes along) the big walk. Gotta love all those blue blaze trails that dump you on the granddaddy. Now, I’ve never hiked the AT in Virginia, and have only done a handful of miles here. Thru-hikers sing the praises of the rugged beauty of the trip through Maine, and talk in less-than-glowing terms about the seemingly endless roller coaster that is the length of trail in Virginia. Still, I’d trade the first for the latter, for lots of reasons.

First, as an aspiring section hiker, I’ll be able to knock off a pretty significant chunk of the overall trail without the logistical travel nightmares that I would encounter by staying here. Maine is on one end of the AT. Virginia is more in the middle.

Then there’s the weather. The non-snowshoe hiking season is longer in Virginia, which lends itself to more spontaneous weekend hikes to gather up a few more miles. As a corollary to this, imagine doing the water crossings on the Maine AT in November. Uh huh. Not only is Virginia lacking those knee-to-waist deep crossings, but the trail would be much more hiking-friendly (as a general rule) in November in Virginia than in Maine. Especially during overnights. BRRR!

And there’s more. The ability to go to Hiker Days in Damascus every year by simply driving a couple of hours, or by hiking southbound to the event from any number of trailheads, if I have the time. Bouncing over to one of the remote roads through which the Trail passes to impart some trail magic, or offer rides to hikers who dread hitching or who lack cell coverage to call a shuttle. I’ll also be just 90 minutes from McAfee Knob, so I can update my profile picture on Facebook every couple of months (okay, I was joking about that last one).

Will I miss the Appalachian Trail here? Of course. But I’ll have one distinct advantage when I’m ready to finish my section hike of Maine: I’m from here, so I’ll have any number of friends and family I can bother for rides, lodging and resupplying.

So it’s off to Virginia. As soon as I locate some gainful employment there…