Day 8 Trail Names

There are a lot of ways to identify us on the trail. One is by the name you know us by, another is by the AT tag number we are given when we start. (It’s a bright orange rectangular tag stamped “AT thru-hiker” and a number matching the number of people signed in when you registered at the start.) My number is 1330.

The third and best way to identify someone is with their trail name. Names are usually given to you when something unusual or funny happens, although not always. Not everybody we now know has a trail name yet, but some do. Let me tell you about how Peppermint received his name.

Remember how mice are a problem at camp and in shelters? Well, Toby had a mouse problem back in Denver, so a family member gave him peppermint oil to put around as a deterrent. He decided to bring it on the AT. The very first night he was sleeping away in his tent on an otherwise lovely night, when he heard a mouse chewing very close by.

The sound brought him awake quickly as he realized it was his backpack just outside the tent which was being chewed. He had left some snack in a pocket. He hurriedly opened his tent, grabbed his pack and pulled it in with him. A few minutes later he heard the mouse again, so he switched on his headlamp and looked around. When he opened his pack he saw the mouse already inside it, which completely wigged him out. I don’t remember how he rid the tent of the mouse, but afterwards he put peppermint oil everywhere in the tent and in his backpack.

The next day many people commented on how much he smelled like peppermint, and… now Toby is Peppermint. Ironically, he since learned bears are attracted to the smell.

So, that’s how we know each other on the AT. Karen chose Easy Bake for me, because I insisted on bringing silicone muffin cups to steam bake muffins on the trail. I realized I had accepted the name when somebody along the trail said “Are you Easy Bake?” as I walked into camp and I said yes. Easy Bake it is. Every night at camp somebody asks abut it and when they see the little muffin cups in my cook kit, they all agree it’s the right name.

Now, if only I could find some muffin mix and live up to my name. A muffin sounds pretty good right now.

Day 1 Beautiful Day Hard Night

We started at Amicalola State Park on the approach trail and headed to Stover Creek Shelter. This means we hiked 8.5 miles before we reached the beginning of the Appalachian Trail. We wanted to start there because of the iconic stone archway marking where most hikers start, and because it’s a long hard climb up stairs and the mountain. This year, the AT is 2190.9 miles long. I figured the approach trail was an initiation, and it was indeed.

It was cold, 32 degrees, and snowed on us all day. This was a lucky break, first because it was so pretty and second because we quickly realized the hard little snowflakes did not stay on us and melt. For two days prior to our start, hikers were dealing with freezing rain. One man who started a day ahead of us, woke to find his tent zipper frozen shut. This was after he discovered a mouse had chewed through his tent to eat some nuts he had in a baggie. Two other women whom we met found themselves and every piece of gear and clothing soaked through and through, with temps in the 30’s on the night before they could reach a road and shuttle to a hotel.

So we were delighted to hike all day in the snow. At the top of Springer Mtn is the start of the AT. It was after 3 pm, bitter cold and windy. Karen made the right call by nixing the campsite near the top of the mountain and having us hike 2.8 more miles down to Stover Creek Shelter. The three sided hut was full, so we set up our three tents out of the worst of the wind. It was hard to set up our cookstoves and eat, because it was so cold. After eating, I was shivering and needed to climb into my insulated sleeping bag liner and my bag, which was on top of a pad in the tent. At first I wore my puffy coat and mittens too, but eventually took off the coat and mittens. We couldn’t let our water filters, water, or fuel canisters freeze, so I put those in the bag with me. Surprisingly, they were not uncomfortable to sleep with.

I worried a bit through the night thinking it might become colder, and took consolation knowing there were about twenty five others camping up there too -surely we were not all idiots freezing to death.

I was so excited to open my eyes and see the first bit of light from dawn coming into my tent. It was 29 degrees and the wind was blowing like crazy, but we were fine and would soon be hiking again. We could only work a minute or two on taking down our gear and packing up, before needing to warm our hands so they didn’t hurt so darn bad. It took over 2 hours to eat and break down camp, which is ridiculously long, but then we set off hiking into what became a beautiful day, happy to again be hiking and looking forward to Day 2 on the AT.

Lesson One: snow is better than rain

Lesson Two: buy warmer gloves

Hike Like A Kid

It’s hard to believe the day is here and in just a few minutes, we will be flying off to Atlanta and making our way to a hostel near the start of the Appalachian Trail. One of my worries – and believe it or not I have a few! – is I will focus so much on finishing each day’s hike that I will miss being present on the trail.

It’s a well ingrained habit of mine to focus on what I want to accomplish, and one which keeps me stubbornly persistent in reaching goals. It has a flip side though and that is to be ignorant of the present while pressing onward to the finish. I’ve been working on balancing both for years, and a recent hike with my young neighbor reminded me it’s rather easy to live in the present if you simply allow yourself.

Identifying Quartz

I took Collier, five years old, on her first hike to Enchanted Rock a couple weeks ago. My original plan to hike with a full backpack for about five miles was quickly tossed aside when her Mom, UnMi, said she could go on a  hike with me. My new goal was two-fold: spend an hour and a half with my thirty pound backpack on my back while hiking as far along the trail as Collier wanted to go. She was so much fun, and it was an insightful hike.


Not all young hikers, or grown hikers for that matter, are fun, but Collier was full of wonder and curiosity, excitedly spotting moss balls which became the ends of fairy wands on a dry grass stalk, or looking for insects and minnows in the little streams we passed. She had never been to Enchanted Rock before and was delighted to climb the boulders near the high point of the trail, so we could see how high we had climbed. Best of all, she was sensible about climbing and didn’t skitter to the edge of the rocks like I thought she might.

We stopped for a snack on a wide open expanse of rock and Collier created nature art with the sticks and leaves she found. The girl is full of creativity and it was interesting to see all the new ideas pop into her head as she created things from all that was around us. That’s when I realized how much fun it was to just be in the park absorbing everything different about where we were, how it looked, and how it felt.

In one of those moments, I locked in the reminder to enjoy my Appalachian Trail hike more vividly and in the present moments. Some of those moments (okay, many) will be uncomfortable or downright miserable. I don’t care. As my AT hiking partner, Karen, said, “I’m looking forward to the good parts, the bad parts, the excitement and the misery.” Watching Collier’s delight with the world around her as she hiked without wondering how far to go or when we would finish, I resolved to hike like a kid more and like a goal oriented zealot less. Let’s see how well I do. Tomorrow is Day 1 of the AT.