Mike was telling me how he's lost 35 pounds since starting his hike on the AT. That is some kind of extreme diet, don't you think? Here's his "before" photo....
Mike and Brooke are standing on Mt. Greylock, which is the highest point in Massachusetts. Don't they look great?
Now for my favorite part - our Q & A session.....
You mentioned Brooke getting her trails legs. Explain what trail legs are
A person typically gets his/her "trail legs" after 6-8 weeks. This means that you are able to hike longer miles in a day and without fewer breaks; your legs have become accustomed to hiking all day and therefore you become fatigued less frequently. I got my trail legs in Virginia. You will know you have your trail legs when you can do a steep climb without feeling the need to take a break.
For example, back in Georgia I had to take my pack off and lay down several times because I was exhausted as I was ascending Blood Mountain. My calves were burning and it seemed like I had to stop and take a break every 10 minutes! However, when I climbed Mt. Everett in Masschusetts (which is much steeper than Blood Mountain, although not as tall) I did not have to take a single break. The difference is trail legs!
How bad are the fleas, ticks and mosquitoes? Do you use a repellent?
The depends on the area. Ticks were all over the place in New Jersey. Brooke and I had to pull many ticks out, and a hiker named The Dude counted 52 ticks on himself in just one day! I haven't seen a tick in a while.
The mosquitoes were awful in Massachusetts, and I had some run-ins in Virginia too. There were a couple nights when I had so many bites that I literally could not go to sleep. When you have 50+ bites, there is almost always an area on your body that is itching! I picked up some 100% deet which works well, but I don't like to use it unless it's absolutely necessary because I suspect it might be harmful to my body in the long-term. Brooke uses 100% deet almost daily, as she has more problems with mosquitoes than me.
As soon as we arrived in Vermont, we encountered a new problem: flies! I don't know if they are deer flies, horse flies, or what, but they constantly land on my head are simply annoying. Combine that with no-see-ums, which enjoy flying into your eyes and ears, and you've got the recipe for a very troublesome day. Unless you've got a bug net for your face, which I've been dutifully carrying for over 1,000 in preparation for times like this. Brooke kept wanting to mail her bug net home, but I said "there will come a day when you are glad you kept that thing!" and that day has arrived. Brooke and I wore our bug nets most of the past week!
You just crossed over into Vermont. Are you amazed that your progress is so quick or do you feel like it’s slow?
That's a tough question to answer. On the one hand, I feel like I've done a lot of big mile hiking days. However, I also took five days off when Brooke visited over spring break, three days off when I had shin splints, etc. Plus, I slowed down when Brooke joined me since she didn't have her trail legs yet and I didn't want to push her. She had some physical problems which led to me carrying her weight, which further decreased my speed. I went from carrying a 16 pound pack to a 45 pound pack, which means less stamina, a slower speed, etc.
Ultimately, however, speed isn't that big a factor to me. Many hikers currently on the trail get very caught up in how many miles they can do per day, but I'm more focused on the end goal: finishing the AT and then coming home to Missouri to finish the OT. As long as I can finish, I'll have achieved the goal!
When you spend a night in a town does the noise make it hard to sleep?
Spending a night in town is typically awesome. We stay at a hostel if there is one available, otherwise we find a cheap motel. I almost always get a great night's sleep. Air conditioning feels amazing!!! I also love the feel of a nice comfy bed. I got excited in Cheshire, MA when a church let us sleep on a concrete floor. We've got blow-up mattresses, so I didn't mind the hard floor. It was nice just to be out of the elements and in a climate-controlled environment. The "great outdoors" are certainly great, but only in modest doses. I will never take air conditioning for granted again!!
You mentioned “getting arrested” for pitching a tent in certain areas. Do rangers actually patrol the trail and give out tickets?
I didn't see any rangers for almost 1,200 miles! One day when Brooke and I were in Pennsylvania, we decided to pitch our tent before reaching a shelter or designated campsite. Brooke was tired and it was getting dark, and I didn't want to push her on if she wasn't comfortable. We pitched the tent, but before we could even get in it three Game Comission police officers showed up and gave us each a $177 ticket ($354 total!!). We hadn't seen a road in miles, but it turns out there was an ATV/dirt road ahead of where we had been hiking, and the Game Commission guys were riding around giving everyone tickets. The end result was that Brooke was forced to hike an additional 3 hours in the dark to reach an allowable place to camp.
I really have a problem with this. Just recently, there was a 14 mile stretch with no shelters or campsites... what is someone supposed to do if they can't make the 14 miles? Sometimes unexpected things happen; you might hurt your ankle, you might become more fatigued than you expected, etc. You definitely cannot predict with absolute certainly how many miles you'll be able to hike each day! I understand that people are trying to protect certain areas by prohibiting camping, but in certain situations it is not safe for a hiker to go any farther and they need to stop for the day. When that happens, I don't think they should have to pay several hundred dollars as a result.
The White Mountains in New Hampshire are regularly patrolled, and they have very few places to stay. The few places they do have charge a fee. If you stay at an AMC-operated hut it costs $95+. As might be expected, many AT hikers have a lot of animosity toward the AMC and do not believe it is right to be forced to stay in certain areas and pay exorbitant amounts. When you're trying to hike 2,184 miles, the last thing you want to deal with is logistical issues like this! But I've heard that in Maine it is mostly remote wilderness, and you can pretty much camp anywhere. We're looking forward to that!
To read more about Mike's journey, visit his Hike4Kids page and consider making a donation to his cause. You can also visit his FB page for more up to the minute news and photos. Read more on his latest blog post about teamwork and how he and Brooke are helping each other on their trip.
Keep on truckin' Mike and Brooke! Be safe out there.
(all photos courtesy of Mike McLaughlin and cannot be used without permission.)