Unpacking Fears on the Appalachian Trail
There is an old saying on trail I love. I think it can be applied to any situation or journey in life. The first time I ever heard it was during a family AT section hike in the VA Highlands. A man, who I later found out had quite the reputation for feeding large groups of hungry hikers, made a comment that stuck with me. It was very clever and thought-provoking. “You only pack your fears.”
As my family and I sat under a tarp eating burgers with a group of other section and thru-hikers, I was captivated by a husband and wife team from Germany. They hiked an additional 5 miles past their planned 20 the day prior. A severe lightning and thunderstorm forced them to take a zero day on trail despite a diminished food supply. News travels fast within the trail community; they heard that Fresh Ground’s Leap Frog Cafe was parked another day before heading further north. The prospect of a hot cooked meal gave them the mental fortitude to get through those additional miles.
In the back of my mind I was taking inventory of every single item in my backpack. Did my backpack look that weighed down? Regrettably I blurted out, “Well, I’m not really afraid of anything out here. What fears do you think long distance hikers usually pack?”
His reply stuck with me, and I’ve thought about it often in these weeks leading up to my thru-hike. “We all have fears and we tend to carry them with us. If you plan on hiking all or any portion of the trail, just remember to take inventory of your fears. Unpack what you can.” That’s powerful if you think about it! You can be as superficial or go as deep as you want to with that sentiment.
A 20% DEET Premium Controlled-Release Lotion will work well against mosquitoes, but Dr. Zimring says he prefers the 20% Picaridin lotion since it also protects against ticks, gnats, chiggers, and flies. (In both instances, he recommends Sawyer brand.)
Part of spending time outside means battling ticks, mosquitoes, and other biting insects. For this, Nelson swears by permethrin.
And out of the products we tested, Dr. Zeichner highly recommends Sawyer Products 20% Picaridin Insect Repellent.