Tales From The Trail: The Lady Bits Fitness Club
In March 2013, I hiked the Appalachian Trail alone. I hiked North-Bound. My hike began on Springer Mountain, Georgia, and ended on Mount Katahdin, Maine. I began on March 26th and ended on September 30th. There are many stories from my six-month-long trip. This is one of them.
When you hike something as long as the Appalachian Trail, you connect with and lose many people. Thousands of individuals are attempting the same journey. You make friends in an instant, but you lose them just as quickly. Sometimes you lose a hiker friend because of speed; you might be faster or slower than them. If you aren’t willing to walk the same pace, you have to part ways. Sometimes somebody will end up leaving the trail. There is always a chance that you can injure yourself, run out of money, or run out of energy. Other times, a connection can be strong enough that you don’t want to lose them. The bond can last months. If you are lucky, it will last the entire trail.
I found three such hikers on my journey. Their names were Foolhardy, Spider, and Breeze. Those weren’t their real names of course; on the AT you get a trail name. Another hiker will pick your name, and that becomes your new identity. My name was Sriracha. All three of them were men. But on the Appalachian Trail, gender didn’t matter.
I met with them one by one. I didn’t know that we would end up forming a team. The Appalachian Trail (AT) is unpredictable. There is no guarantee that a person will stay with you. We had all met within the first two months of hiking, but we didn’t stay together until the last month. That was when we named ourselves. We became The Lady Bit Fitness Club, and we were unstoppable. Together, we were a family unit. Complete with a day-to-routine.
A typical trail day would go like this:
“It’s morning!” One of us called out from inside our tent. “I don’t want to!” was the common response. But someone gave in, and at the sound of a tent unzipping, we began to break camp. After packing everything up, we sat down for breakfast and took out our maps. On the AT you use an “AWOL” map. The AWOL is special because it provides more detail than elevation loss and gain. There are lists of towns you are close to, and landmarks like reliable water sources and shelters. They are always up to date because every year there is a new edition. When consulting the map, we determined how long we hiked that day. Towards the end of the trail, our miles plummeted. Not because we couldn’t hike long distances, but because the terrain became more challenging. Eighteen miles a day had turned into 10-13. But, I cared most about where we were planning to have lunch.
While food is important to all hikers, lunch served as our first meeting place. We all started at the same time. But, because I couldn’t keep pace with three men, I hiked on my own. The next time I saw them was at lunch. While it sounds lonely, I loved hiking by myself. I was less self-conscious, maintained my independence, and never worried that I was holding any of them back. I never once felt alone because my friends always waited for me.
Lunch spots were almost always a shelter. Because there are so many along the trail, they were a natural stopping point. Shelters are close to water sources, which are important for refilling your supply. And they had luxuries like picnic tables. A flat surface to eat your meal on was rare. When I made it to the lunch spot, the first thing I asked was how long they waited for me. I was slower, but I still had a hiker ego. I wanted to make sure that they hadn’t been waiting long. In turn, they asked me how many times I fell so far. This sounds cruel, but it was our joke. Falling is a part of the trail. But I fell more than all of them.
“So Racha, how many times did you fall today?” the conversation began. I eyed the ground and paused for effect. Foolhardy, Breeze and Spider gazed at my knees, checking for fresh mud. Every day they bet on a new number, and every day I would surprise them.
After the falling game, we compared our stories about the hike so far. Sometimes the guys stayed together the whole time, other times they separated. But if there was a more difficult spot, we each wanted to know how the other person got through it. This could be about anything from getting around a fallen tree to a steep uphill climb. Then we ate. My normal lunch was some kind of sandwich, a protein bar, and a pile of dates and almonds. I washed them down with a bottle of Gatorade mix and then ate dessert. Hikers are always hungry. The further along you get on the AT, the more you need to satisfy that hunger.
After eating, we would digest and consult the AWOL again. On days when the trail was harder than we expected, we adjusted the endpoint to something more reasonable. If everybody felt good, we stuck to the original plan from the morning. On one such lunch meeting, all three of them had something important to tell me. It was the day we would hike through the Mahoosuc Notch. This section is one of the hardest miles on the entire Appalachian Trail. It’s a one mile stretch of craggy rocks that you either have to climb through like a cave or climb over like a mountain. The entire time you have to rock hop, take your pack on and off, and figure out how to make it from one rock to the next.
“So we’ve been thinking,” said Breeze, “Because this is going to be a really hard part of the trail, we wanted to help you out.”
“It’s not because we don’t think you can do it!” Spider chimed in. “But we want to make sure you don’t fall behind.”
After a moment of silence, Foolhardy looked me in the eyes and said, “We are going to carry your pack.”
I stopped myself from crying. To take another hiker’s pack was to take on the burden of 20 to 30 extra pounds. Not only would they be trying to deal with their gear, but they were also willing to navigate the Notch with mine. Of course, I tried to fight them, but they had made up their minds.
I faced the Mahoosuc Notch later that day. It still took me a long time because it was a logistical nightmare. But I had fun doing it because my pack and poles weren’t weighing me down. I jumped and crawled and squeezed. And it was still daylight when I finished.
We picked an ending spot right after the Notch. An unofficial campground that was flat and grassy, complete with a fire pit. I saw my friends, and I knelt in front of them. I practiced my speech the entire time I was working my way through the Notch.
“I owe you my unending gratitude” I began with a flourish. “Whatever it is you need from me, I will repay my debt.” After several minutes of silly promises, they made me get up. In their minds, I didn’t owe them anything. They took care of me out of love and loyalty.
The day ended with the usual routine. We set up our tents, put on our jackets, and made hot food. That night was special, so we started a fire. You don’t always have time to make a fire due to exhaustion from walking all day. But that night was a celebration. We were celebrating our success as a team. We had survived another day, and we would do it all again the next day. Together. All the way to the end.