Mike & Brooke have hiked over 1461 miles and have now reached Connecticut!
Mike tells me that so far he's lost 50 pounds on the trail. That's one hell of a way to lose weight. I think he looks great, don't you?
Brooke taking a snooze.....
This week's Q & A covers animals in the wild, Mike's hiking equipment and his boots, which believe it or not, are also my favorite brand - Vasque.....
I heard you saw a bear last week. What other animals have you seen so far?
We saw the bear as we were approaching route 206 in Branchville, New Jersey. It was exciting because the bear was quite large and not that far from us. It just looked at us though and went in the other direction.
As far as other animals go, we have seen many chipmunks, deer, and snakes. We have been really surprised by the number of chipmunks, since squirrels are much more common everywhere we've lived prior to the Appalachian Trail. The deer are the same as those at home, except for the deer in Shenandoah National Forest which had no fear of humans (I literally almost bumped into a deer a couple of times!). Snakes are very common when it is sunny, as they will lay right on the trail. It is very easy to accidentally step on or near a snake. Usually, the snake will just slither away, but some hikers have had bad experiences with rattlesnakes, especially in New Jersey where a rattlesnake refused to budge from the trail and sat there coiled up rattling like mad!
What piece of equipment is your favorite? What do you wish you didn’t have to lug along?
The most crucial piece of gear has been my Aircast. During the first couple weeks of the trail, I sprained my ankle twice and rolled it countless times. I tried many ankle braces but was not able to adequately protect my ankle until I got the Aircast. The Aircast makes it virtually impossible to twist my ankle; I would literally fall down before my ankle would move, as the Aircast keeps the ankle locked in.
As important as the Aircast is, however, I wish I did not have to lug it along! Anytime I want to take my shoes or socks off it is a big hassle. In the morning, I typically put on the Aircast, socks, shin sleeves, gaiters, and of course shoes, which is a cumbersome process I refer to as "putting my battle gear on." On a hot day, hikers enjoy taking their shoes and socks off and dipping their feet in a creek, but I don't bother with it because removing the Aircast is more hassle than it's worth. Plus, the Aircast is additional weight, and any added weight on your feet slows you down significantly because you have to lift the weight with every single step.
I couldn't do without the Aircast, but I wish I had stronger ankles and didn't need it!
Did you bring anything initially that you’ve decided you could live without and have shipped home?
I have shipped lots of things home. Many hikers dump a lot of their gear at Neels Gap, which is the first outfitter you run into along the trail (it's just 30 miles into the trail). I sent home a big knife that I had carried because I was initially worried about bears, other hikers, or people named Cletus who lived in the mountains :) After a while, however, I realized that hiking the trail entails risks, and I was willing to send home the knife in order to have a lighter pack.
How are your hiking boots holding up and what kind are you wearing?
I'm wearing a pair of low-cut Vasque hiking shoes. I started with Vasque Breeze high-top boots but sent them home when I got the Aircast. I've hiked over 1,000 miles in these shoes and they look tattered. They are supposedly waterproof, but pretty much all "waterproof" shoes or boots are not 100% effective. I like my shoes because they are still holding together and they fit well with my Aircast.
Which do you like better- being on the low ground in meadows and forest or being high up, on the mountain ridges?
Being on a ridge is beautiful. It's a wonderful feeling, especially because being on a ridge typically means you just finished climbing a mountain. When you make it up to that ridge, you know you've accomplished something and it feels great. There's typically more of a breeze, the temperature is cooler, and you sometimes get treated to an awesome view. The climb to Mt. Kittatinny in New Jersey, for example, was rather long, but once we got to the top we had a beautiful 360 degree view and a nice walk along the ridgeline. It feels like you're walking on clouds as your legs just glide along.
Visit the Hike4Kids FB page for more comments and some great video's this week of Mike getting caught in a hail storm, sleeping bag tips and going through the Lemon Squeezer. You don't want to miss this!
If you'd like to make a donation to the Hike4Kids Fund, visit the Hike4Kids page.
All photo's courtesy of Mike McLaughlin. Do not re-print without permission.