The ultimate post-thru-hike re-entry program

Rocky Top Trail Crew members show their enthusiasm along the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smokies//Photo courtesy the Rocky Top Trail Crew blog//Text by Leanna Joyner, Trail Resources manager

Near the end of a thru-hike, or just afterwards, there’s a flood of mixed emotions: pride, elation, and for some, there’s confusion about what comes next. The camaraderie, present-moment focus, the healthy physical exertion, and time outdoors doesn’t have to conclude when your hike finishes.

RockyTop_LogoSeveral thru-hikers of the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) are already planning to join the Rocky Top Trail Crew once their hike ends. Rocky Top Trail Crew enables hikers to experience the Great Smoky Mountains from a different perspective by working and camping on the Trail during 8-day sessions.

Here are the top 10 reasons why a hitch on crew is the perfect transition into life after the trail.

  1. Retrace part of your hike: The Smokies are beautiful, but early spring thru-hike starts often means missing the views and expansive perspective gained from some of the highest and most remote sections of the entire A.T. You’ll get to return to the Smokies in time to see the fall colors in their full effect in September and October and squeeze out the very last bit of good weather before the snow flies and puts the Trail to bed for the winter.
  1. Camaraderie: Live and work with the salt of the earth. Whether reuniting with Trail friends or other volunteers on the crew, you’ll forge the kind of memorable relationships that will last a long time.
  1. “Repair the Rut”: If you ever found yourself frustrated with a trench of trail, this is your chance to make it better for those who come behind you. Be part of improving the type of trail conditions you were annoyed by the most.
  1. Get a behind the scenes look at the management of the A.T.: The Trail doesn’t just exist. It’s constantly evolving and shifting, and it requires a host of management partners, from volunteers, to Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) staff, and land management agencies. Get a glimpse of how all the pieces and partners fit together by being a valuable piece of the puzzle to protect the A.T.
  1. Learn new skills: By the end of your hike, you’ve stepped over, on, or around thousands of steps or waterbars. They are the corrective action for the number one enemy of the trail: water. These erosion control features repair entrenched trail by slowing the flow of water or by getting off the trail. Learn the “how” and the “why” behind these structures. You’ll know it well enough by the end that you can teach someone else.
  1. Continue your outdoor experience: If your experience hiking this year makes you feel like you may only ever want to live and work in the backcountry, trail crew provides a great job skill training opportunity and resume builder. Add conservation, natural resource protection, and teamwork to your skill set as you ease your way back into the workforce.
  1. Get all you can eat without tacking on those post-trail pounds: Keep your trail physique and gain upper body strength and conditioning while enjoying all the food you can eat. Did we mention you don’t even have to carry that food up the mountain to the backcountry site? Our equestrian volunteer and partners help us carry some of the heaviest equipment and supplies to the worksite on this rare horse-accessible portion of the A.T.
  1. Put your worrying mind at ease: With your backpack on, your focus is solely on the trail ahead. On crew, you can focus just on the task at hand: crushing this rock, lopping this brush, or placing the most perfect stone step. With concerted focus, your mind releases unnecessary chatter and your body produces measurable results.
  1. It feels good to give back: Altruism releases all kinds of fabulous feelings. Bring yourself and your contributions of sweat and effort to Rocky Top Trail Crew to leave a lasting impact. Plus, you’ll be delighted to plan a return visit long into the future.
  1. Earn a free t-shirt: While no one on crew cares a bit if you’re stinky as you work alongside them in your hiking gear, at the end of your crew session, you’ll appreciate having a fresh t-shirt to slip on. You’ll walk away with a t-shirt in acknowledgement of your effort and making you as a great guardian of the A.T.

Convinced that you are a good fit for the Rocky Top Trail Crew? Access the crew schedule here and email Leanna at ljoyner@appalachiantrail.org with any questions.

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The start of a great A.T. tradition? I think yes

Ryan Seltzer in 2009//Photo courtesy of Ryan Seltzer//Text by Maxwell Roeske, public relations intern

The classic line “April showers bring May flowers” is being rewritten by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC). The ATC is welcoming May with the Inaugural Flip Flop Kickoff Weekend at its Harpers Ferry, WV Visitor Center on Saturday and Sunday, May 2 and 3—and from now on, you’ll hear people in the town of Harpers Ferry saying “April showers bring May Flip Floppers.”

A flip flop thru-hike is an alternative to the old school definition of a thru-hike. Today’s Appalachian Trail (A.T.) hikers ought to know that thru-hiking the world’s most famous long-distance footpath doesn’t mean they have to start and end in Georgia or Maine. In fact, more and more thru-hikers are finding out that Harpers Ferry is an ideal location to begin or end their hike. The allure of visiting the town twice then tips the scales toward a flip flop hike.

When flip flop hikers triumphantly return to the area for a special version of a “half-time” celebration, “They have a chance to to explore the C&O Towpath, the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, the Potomac Heritage Trail and Harpers Ferry National Historical Park,” said Laurie Pottieger, the ATC’s information services manager and organizer of what is being dubbed as the FFKO Weekend. “It’s a jumping off point for flip floppers and day hikers alike that offers a wealth of hiking opportunities and more.”

Flip flopping visitors get a chance to take some down time not usually afforded to those thru-hikers who are focused on Katahdin and its October 15 summit deadline. Many take advantage of the leisure time to wait for their southbound (SOBO) compatriots and join them in the A.T.’s southern migration from Baxter State Park towards Springer Mountain.

Joseph "Bellows" and Catherine "Watermelon" summit Katahdin during their 2014 flip flop thru-hike.

Joseph “Bellows” and Catherine “Watermelon” summit Katahdin during their 2014 flip flop thru-hike.

ATC’s Flip Flop Kick Off Weekend is a chance to celebrate and learn more about this new movement. The festival schedule is jam-packed with everything from giveaways and games to live music and hiking workshops to an official bon voyage for this year’s flip flop hikers. ATC’s Trail Information Specialist Tenny Webster, who is leading a workshop during the event, said, “We’ll be demonstrating bear bag hanging techniques including the latest and greatest tricked out variations. We’ll show various bear bag hanging systems and all of their components, from the ideal equipment for a hang (and what you will actually have on the Trail), to knots you need to know, and of course, the importance of troubleshooting as you go. It will be hands-on, so people should bring their throwing arm for some ‘Spring Training’!”

Eighty percent of hikers who set out to complete the entire A.T. in 12 months or less start in Georgia and end in Maine. Talk about a crowd! Flip flopping offers a relief from the large groups of Northbound (NOBO) hikers not only to the flip flopper, but to the Trail itself. The ATC is encouraging this conservation-minded thru-hike.

Ryan “Castanada” Seltzer, the ATC Corridor Stewardship Coordinator, is also a FFKO workshop presenter, and after successfully completing a flip flop in 2009, he’s been a flip flop advocate from the start.

“The A.T. is here to stay,” he said. “As the Trail’s popularity continues to grow, users must consider the impacts they cause and spread them out so that nature has the opportunity to heal itself. And to not just follow the crowd, spread out, take as much time as they can.”

Who wouldn’t want to soak up as much of the Trail’s beauty as they could? Flip flopping lets you slow down and enjoy more of the little things.

“That’s really why people should consider a flip flop hike,” concluded Seltzer.

The Flip Flop Kick Off is about more than the awesome temporary tattoos you can get during the festival (whice are seriously cool). It’s about celebrating the men and women, young and old alike, adopting this new version of a thru-hike. We’re gathering to celebrate the traditions of our beloved Trail melding seamlessly with new alternatives that are only going strengthen the A.T. for generations to come. That’s why there’s no doubt in my mind, that the answer to the question, “Is this the start of a new A.T. tradition?” is a resounding YES!

For more information about the Flip Flop Kick Off, visit www.appalachiantrail.org/flipflop.

Kelly Perkins on the Appalachian Trail

Intern Aspirations

Kelly Perkins on the Appalachian Trail//Photo courtesy of Kelly Perkins//Text by Maxwell Roeske, public relations intern

Meet Kelly Perkins, former Membership & Development intern at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC). She’s also one of our newest Trail Guardians, better known as our monthly donors, and now she’s someone I look up to. You’re probably asking, “Max, so what?” Well hold your horses, I’m getting to it.

Kelly was connected with the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) for about three years prior to being an intern. She was part of the Appalachian State University Trail Crew which went out around the Boone, NC area and helped maintain local trails. The A.T. and her fellow volunteers had the most profound impact on her. Kelly said, “I was astounded at the passion these men and women had for maintaining the Trail.”

21723_273032986133233_177686589_nKelly accomplished a lot during her time at the ATC as an intern, including analyzing the membership database. She spent her time interpreting information about members and the best ways to communicate with our supporters. Kelly’s work helped grow the ATC’s donor support.  Best of all, the experience she gained during the internship helped her go on to secure a full time position analyzing business data for a North Carolina logistics company following her graduation from Appalachian State University.

She wanted to give back to the Trail and the ATC, but how was she supposed to do this and balance her new job? Kelly set the bar high for us interns by becoming a monthly donor. Kelly said, “[Donating to the ATC] gave me an option of giving back to the Trail in a different way than physically maintaining it. My choice to donate really came from a snowball type series of events from working on the A.T. with Trail Crew, working on trails during my summer season working at Grandfather Mountain State Park and then being an intern at the ATC. Working at the Conservancy gave me the opportunity to learn more about an organization that focused on what I already enjoyed doing: hiking and just being outside.”

Why does this make Kelly someone I admire? Well, I’m currently in college and the thought of losing out on money allocated for ramen and cheap light beer is horrifying. I know I’m not alone in that fear. I also know that one day I’ll move beyond that phase of Red Bull and corn flakes for breakfast and I’ll find a career and hopefully settle down and start a family. I won’t be an unpaid intern forever.  That’s when I’ll be thinking about Kelly and her induction into the ranks of the ATC’s Trail Guardians. If she can find a way to give back through her monthly donations, I’ll be able to as well.

And that’s an intern aspiration.

tHarmony provides a chance for ‘Love at First Hike’

Canuck and Happy Hipster on the Appalachian Trail//Photo courtesy tHarmony//Text by Happy Hipster

Below is a real-life testimonial from two hikers who met using tHarmony, a dating service offered in partnership with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. To learn more about tHarmony or to sign up to find your Trailmate, visit www.appalachiantrail.org/tharmony.

The timing was perfect. Back in July, a few days before my paid subscription to tHarmony was set to expire, a guy named Canuck who had a beard that melted my soul contacted me and asked if I wanted to go hiking. I thought, “Why not try one last time? Maybe this time I’ll find love.”

I have hiked with a lot of people over the years—including some guys who became my friends and some who became a little bit more. I have no regrets about those past relationships, though, because they helped mold me into a better backpacker and, ultimately, a better person. This means that by the time Canuck came into my life, I was pretty confident about who I was and what I wanted in a trail (and soul) mate. Coming from a good place emotionally allows me to bring more to the proverbial “tent,” so to speak, and enjoy what Canuck has to offer—both on and off the trail.

Canuck and I just fit, and it feels like we’ve been hiking with each other forever. People ask us how long we’ve been together, and it always surprises us to realize it wasn’t too long ago that we met for our first hike near Bear Mountain, New York. We do feel like it took our whole lives to find each other, though, and now we’re sticking together like mac n’ cheese (but not with that pouch of tuna mixed in, because tuna mac is so early 2000s).

Thank you, tHarmony, for matching us. I know we couldn’t have done it without you! On Friday, we’ll celebrate our 9-month anniversary, and we figured we ought to give credit where it’s due. To anyone doubting the site, anyone that is tired or having poor luck dating in the hiker community, don’t give up! Dating can be exhausting and hard work, but tHarmony makes it easier. Just keep on waiting for that little bit of magic to come along.

Canuck and Happy Hipster live in Bear Mountain, New York, and they hit the Trail together almost every weekend. Canuck still rocks the beard that attracted Happy Hipster to him in the first place.

Meals so good you won’t want to share with your hiking partner

Janet “Slow n’ Steady” enjoys breakfast on the Appalachian Trail//Antlers Campsite, Maine//Photo by Janet “Slow n’ Steady//Text by Anne Baker, marketing assistant 

Food. We’d like to bet that besides gear, it’s what hikers think the most about while they’re out on the trail. But if you’re tired of getting your calories from those chicken teriyaki Mountain House meals or a Snickers bar dipped in peanut butter, we don’t blame you. Here’s a few tried-and-true backcountry recipes from our staff.

Ingredients: Package of soft tortilla wraps, individually wrapped small cream cheese containers, summer sausage, and a box of grape tomatoes

Directions: Smear cream cheese on wrap. Place cut up pieces of sausage in cream cheese and then add grape tomatoes. Roll up and enjoy!

Comments: It’s a simple meal, but all the ingredients are extremely durable and the individually wrapped cream cheese containers last for a long time even at room temperature.  The cream cheese holds everything in place if you are trying to put it together on an uneven surface, and the tomatoes are a welcome blast of flavor, freshness and water on a hot day. You can also easily turn this into a vegetarian option by eliminating the summer sausage. Perfect!

– Mark Saari

Ingredients: Package of any kind of pasta (Barilla Torellini is great if you’re willing to carry the extra weight), sundried tomatoes, olive oil, pine nuts or walnuts, Italian spices, and a small package of parmesan cheese

Directions: Boil water and cook the pasta with the sundried tomatoes until they become soft. Once the pasta is cooked, toss with olive oil, nuts, spices and cheese. If you want, you can also save the water if you’re hardcore enough to drink some tasty starch-and-tomato broth!

Comments: Pre-trip, package the spices, nutsand parmesan cheese in a zip-lock bag (unless it’s summer, in which case the cheese might melt). This makes the meal easy to prepare on the Trail!

– Kathryn Herndon

Ingredients: Package of ramen noodles, a smear of peanut butter, honey, and cocoa powder

Directions: Open a package of ramen, but don’t cook it! Smear the peanut butter across the top, add the cocoa powder, and then drizzle honey over the whole thing.

Comments: Uncooked ramen might sound disgusting, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Adding the peanut butter, cocoa and honey make this snack a satisfying treat full of energy.

– John Csordas

Ingredients: Canned biscuit dough, vegetable oil, and chocolate frosting

Directions: Rip each portion of biscuit dough into four pieces and drop into a small pot of hot vegetable oil. Once golden, remove the fried dough, let cool, and smear with chocolate frosting. Enjoy!

Comments: This is a really easy recipe to satisfy even the most voracious sweet tooth, and you don’t have to mix anything together at all! Just be sure to pack out that empty can of biscuit dough.

– Olivia Divish

Okay, your turn! What are your favorite Trail recipes? Let us know with a comment below.

A (not-so) ‘Wild’ gal

Ellen Gass on the Appalachian Trail//Photos and text by Ellen Gass, guest blogger

Let me start by saying that I loved “Wild.” I loved the book. I loved the movie. I loved the way they captured many of the struggles and fears that hikers, especially solo female hikers, have while backpacking. And, it gave me a sincere appreciation for the fact that my toenails fell off on their own without having to rip them off.

After returning from six months on the Appalachian Trail (A.T.), one of the questions I get a lot (after “How was it?” – a question that is impossible to answer in less than 45 minutes and without a 400-plus photo slideshow) is “What did you learn?” or “How did you grow as a person?” There are, indeed, a lot of things I learned. For example: porcupines will eat your shirt if you leave it out to dry on a bench at night. Most hikers carry at least one or two things they could do without, luxury items you might say. I learned that a shirt is not a luxury item. A shirt is something you need. I also definitely grew as a person. Confidence abounds after keeping yourself alive in the woods for months at a time. However, I have found that people seem to be looking for a more of a “Wild” answer.

Now, many people who spend time on the Trail do have “Wild” experiences. The Trail is a great place to heal, grow, and learn about yourself. I have been blessed to spend more than 10 years hiking and working on the Trail. It has changed me, but those changes have been slower, more gradual. So this fall, making my way from Katahdin to Springer, my Trail experience was more of a vacation than a spiritual journey. That’s to say, while every so often the thought, “I bet people think I’m contemplating the meaning of life right now” would cross my mind, the actual meaning of life rarely did. The expectation that spending so much time in the woods will lead to spiritual musings, an understanding of who I really am (other than a very hungry hiker), and an enlightened sense of self, is so pervasive, though, that I’d like to give you a taste of what really happens in the brain of a long distance hiker.

I found that sometimes, when I’m hiking . . .

  • I use my trekking poles as a microphone and dance down the Trail.
    Microphone
  • I throw my snot bandana over my shoulder and pretend it’s a cape and I’m a super-hero flying down the Trail.Photo2
  • I pretend I’m a NASCAR driver banking on the downhill turns (no one goes fast on uphill turns). But only on the left turns – on the right turns, I pretend I’m a Formula One Driver.
  • I pretend the ground is lava, and I have to jump from rock to rock in order not to burn up.Photo3
  • I pretend that I am one of the elephants from Salvador Dali’s paintings, and my trekking poles are my long spindly front legs. Then I take giant tromping steps.Photo4
  • I wonder if I can climb that, then I check to see if I am right.Photo5
  • I wonder if it’s too soon to have another snack break, or if you can eat too many sour gummi worms. (Answer: You can’t.)
  • I wonder if I have been hiking for too long . . . nah!

From idly dreaming about long hiking trips to working seasonally, then full-time for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Ellen is excited that she had the opportunity to turn her on-again, off-again flirtation with the Trail into a fully committed relationship this past summer and fall when she spent six months hiking more than 1,700 miles of the AT.

With a few miles left to go, Ellen is happy to say that she is not done, and is still hiking the Trail (albeit not on the Trail these days). Stay tuned for the full story and the rest of Ellen’s hike in a future issue of A.T. Journeys, and in the meantime, check out her blog here.  

Why we’re looking good at 90

ATC staff celebrate the organization’s 90th//Harpers Ferry, West Virginia//Photo by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy//Text by Anne Baker, marketing assistant

Today, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) turned 90. That means we’ve been around since the first issue of the New Yorker was published, the first film was shown on an airplane, and when the record temperature low was recorded in Maine (-48 degrees in Van Buren). We’ve seen a lot during our 90 years, including millions of other firsts.

But we like to think that we’re unique, and that our birthday is worth remembering. We’ve come a long way since that day in 1925 when Benton MacKaye and his team sat down to determine how to get the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) on the ground from Georgia to Maine. Yet throughout the years, the heart of the organization has remained the same: to protect and maintain an approximate 2,180-mile long footpath that is, to so many, a place of dreams, hopes and life-changing discovery.

If we had a guest list for a birthday party, it would be thousands of names long. The ATC isn’t made up of just staff, after all—it’s a volunteer-based organization that you choose to be a part of. Last year, for example, close to 6,000 volunteers helped keep the A.T. in top shape. That’s an extraordinary number, and that doesn’t even include our members, community supporters, agencies and corporate partners who have provided the funds necessary to support our work. We accomplish what we do thanks to you.

Because we’re an organization that relies so heavily on community support, we want the public to help us celebrate this year. We want everyone to get excited about who we are and what we do so we can not only relive our experiences along the A.T. together, but look ahead to what’s in store for the future.

And that whole “future” thing is key, especially because this year we began implementing a new Strategic Plan that will guide our organization through 2019. The plan will build on our successes, driving us to embrace initiatives that include managing and protecting the A.T. and surrounding landscapes; involving more young and diverse people with the Trail and volunteer work; and strengthening and expanding the ATC’s network of partners as well as our organizational capacity so that we have the resources to achieve all of our goals.

It’s a bold plan, but we believe that by the time someone turns 90, they’ve earned their right to take a few risks here and there.

Happy birthday, ATC.

Now do you want to help us celebrate? Learn more about what you can do by visiting www.appalachiantrail.org/90th.