One Piece At A Time
Section Hikers Share Experiences Trekking Appalachian Trail
On the evening of July 7 at Ruby’s Lounge, “No Sweat,” “No Pants,” “Moss Man,” “Marmot” and “Rolling Fox” discussed highlights of their time spent section hiking the Appalachian Trail.
“No Sweat,” known off the trail as Eddie Bumbaugh, says that hiking the trail in parts over a number of years is an ideal option for people with families or a job that doesn’t offer 6 months of vacation.
“One of the mottos about the Appalachian Trail is to ‘Hike your own hike,’ ” Bumbaugh explained.
“If for you that means a mile, great. Just the Virginia trails? Fantastic. Thru-hiking? Wonderful. All of these are valid ways to enjoy the Appalachian Trail.”
No Sweat, No Pants, and Moss Man, sometimes accompanied by Marmot and Rolling Fox, take off a week every year and hike a section of the trail as a group.
“We’ve done 1860 miles, with 300 to go, and we hope to finish it before we’re 90,” Bumbaugh jokes.
Some of their tips for section hiking the AT include:
1. Get A Trail Name
“One of the most important challenges is that you have to come up with a trail name,” Bumbaugh says.
“There’s two ways that can happen: Either you choose one yourself or one will be given to you, particularly if you do something stupid.”
“Moss Man,” better known as Dick Wettstone of Harrisonburg, got his name using the former method.
“No Pants” is the trail name of Andy Huggins, a certified financial planner with Ameriprise Financial.
“Eddie doesn’t sweat, and I’ll wake up sweating, so my trail name is ‘No Pants,’ ” Huggins jokes. “I’ll have underwear under my shorts and a long shirt, so I start out with shorts on and when I get into the woods I take my shorts off and my long shirt makes it look like I had no pants on. It keeps me cool.”
“Marmot,” or Jane Cox, a middle school life science teacher, has no rhyme or reason for her trail name. She’s just Marmot.
“Rolling Fox,” Jackie Hensley, earned her moniker after falling gracefully down a cliff.
2. Be Prepared
“Let me introduce you to three of my friends,” Wettstone said. “The first is a black fly net, which will keep you from literally going crazy.”
“And then there are my other two friends, my hiking poles: Safety and Security. I would be on my butt so many times without them.”
A first step for those preparing to hike is to visit a local store with someone knowledgeable about the trek, such as Vince “Blaze” Mier at Walkabout Outfitter, 90 N. Main St.
The No. 1 thing on the essentials list is a day pack that fits properly.
“I’ve had a surgically repaired shoulder and I assumed I couldn’t carry a pack,” Cox said. “But I was wrong. If you get a pack that fits properly, and get the weight balanced, you’ll surprise yourself with what you can do.”
Vince recommends a 10-34 liter pack for a day hike and a 34-50 liter pack for longer hikes.
3. Believe In Angels
Trail Angels are strangers who will pick you up and take you to town, help you stock up on food or get off the trail for a night.
One disadvantage of section hiking the AT is you have to be very good at networking with other people if you’re leaving a vehicle at both ends.
Trail Angels can be found online, through friends, or word of mouth, but often the group said these good Samaritans appear in your darkest hour — when you’ve eaten your last box of raisins or desperately need a shower.
“I will say, if you pick up a hiker, make sure you roll the windows down,” Huggins says. “They really stink.”
4. Always Fill Up
When you come to a water source, it’s usually best to fill up.
“We did not follow that once,” Bumbaugh said, “And we got to a point where [a fellow hiker] was out and I was almost out, and we found a mud puddle, so we pumped and got water with that. Of course, in a hundred yards, there was this wonderful stream.”
5. Make Your Own Traditions
Rituals are one example of fun to be had while hiking as a group.
“We have a lot of traditions,” Bumbaugh says. “One of our hiking friends snored and the others did not, so there was a snorer’s and non-snorers’ tent, but somewhere during the process, the one who was a non-snorer started snoring, so now it’s just me in the non-snorer’s tent.”
6. Look Out For Bears
Bear attacks are rare on the trail, but a black bear may react aggressively if startled. If you encounter a bear, the best thing to do is to make noise by talking, whistling or banging sticks together to give the bear a chance to move away before they get close enough to feel threatened. The best way to keep bears away from your camp is to cook and store food 200 feet away from the site.
“It’s our entertainment every night watching Dick try and throw the bear bag over the tree,” Huggins says.
When the group was hiking through the Smoky Mountains, they came to a shelter where a bear had been sighted every night for the preceding week.
In the middle of the night, while they were asleep in their tents, a guy staying in the shelter started screaming.
“He came up to our tent site and said he ran the bear off, but he didn’t want to go back and sleep by himself,” Huggins said. “So Eddie asked, ‘Are you a snorer or non-snorer?’ and he said he didn’t snore, so Eddie invited him to his tent.”
During the night, the bear had climbed up the tree where their food bag was hanging, walked across the branch and broke it down. All their food was gone except for one small box of raisins.
“Luckily, that was our last day of the hike,” Huggins said. “So, I got ahead of the group to where there was log and I divided up the box, so we each had five raisins for lunch. When the guys got there, I said, ‘Hey, I got the buffet spread out!’ ”
7. Hike Year Round
Another advantage of section hiking is that you can see the trail in each of the four seasons.
“We would hike once a month regardless of the weather,” Bumbaugh said.
Spring brings tunnels of rhododendron; in summer, everything is green; autumn means multi-colored leaves, and a winter snow creates a shroud of silence.
8. Explore Beyond The Trail
But section hiking it’s just about the beauty of the trail; it also lends time to visit the villages, towns and countryside thru-hikers may miss.
“We were staying at a campsite in New York,” Wettstone recalled. “And we went into town to eat dinner at Cold Spring and discovered that the railway came right through the town. So, we got the bright idea to hop on the one-hour train to Grand Central Station, walk around New York City and Times Square until about midnight, hop back on the train and crawl back into our tents.”
9. The Trail Is For Everyone
“I’m not putting down people who do the whole thing. I think it’s wonderful,” Cox says. “But I just approach it with an entirely different philosophy. … if I can do this, you can do it; you just have to be sensible about your goals, know what you’re doing and have the right equipment.
Jackie “Rolling Fox” Hensley had a vacation planned to Key West, Fla., where she planned to lie in the sun sipping cocktails for a week, when Huggins convinced her to hike some of the hardest parts of the AT in Mount Washington.
“Now, I’m converted and plan on doing a thru-hike at some point,” she says. “Once you get to the top of a peak and can see five mountain ranges, and you can see the Valley where you started, it gives you the sort of confidence you may not get in other areas of your life.”
Contact Hannah Pitstick at 574-6274 or firstname.lastname@example.org