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Eywt Katat Bwata

This document is designed to satisfy the inner person inside all of us that begs to know useless facts. Or, perhaps, the inner person that wants to know what questions everyone else's inner person is asking. By the time you have finished reading this KATFAQ (Karl's Appalachian Trail Frequently Asked Questions), you will have reaped a cornucopia of knowledge about the Appalachian Trail, which you can then pull out, on demand, to entertain your girlfriend's parents. In addition, by the end of this document you will have realized that I really don't know what I'm talking about. Yet. I'll update this in August.

The line that reads, "I'll update this in August" needs to be updated to read, "I'll update this in September," because here it is, September, and I am only now getting around to updating it. I'm going to update in purple, so if you have a black-and-white monitor you'd better go out and buy a new one. Well, on with the updating.

When and how did you decide to thru-hike the Trail?

My friend Chris and I dreamed the idea in the staff lounge at Pine Springs Camp, Jennerstown, Pennsylvania, 1995. When Chris moved to Grand Rapids the next year (while I was finishing school), the combined dreaming power overcame our feeble resistance. At a certain point in time, the question arose: Why not? The rest of the planning became merely detail.

As did the rest of the hike. Just detail.

Just how many steps do the feet of a thru-hiker take?

A lot less than Donald Trump has dollars. A lot more than I would like to count of sheep. About the same as the number of letters and packages I plan to receive.

Scientifically speaking, a megastep. Philosophically speaking, the number of centuries granted to monkeys to type Hamlet. Roughly speaking, one million, from Georgia to Maine.

Since I wrote the answer to this question, I have done some fact checking (Sarah V.'s influence) and have discovered that a six-foot human takes just short of five million steps (assuming some stride length which I've forgotten). However, I'm not sure how to count the three hundred miles that I traveled while bunny hopping. Is each hop one step, or two?

Incidentally, though I did receive one million packages, I did not receive five million.

How long will that take?

Five months. Long enough so that . . . oh forget it.

Some people hike the Trail in as few as four months. Some people hike it over a period of years, on each visit hiking a different section. A five month schedule assumes a pace of about fifteen miles a day. This is an average number, of course, as well as being a total shot-in-the-dark guess, and I'm counting on time and my aching muscles to reveal the realistic figure.

My hike lasted six months, almost to the hour. This figure includes about twenty-five days off: that is, zero-mile days. In other words, when I walked I averaged fifteen miles a day, but because I took many days off my average was about twelve miles a day.

Is the Trail safe?

From what I've been told, the Trail is quite safe. It's the kind of place that you don't have to lock your car doors. There is, of course, the possibility of crazed psycho freaks, but no more so than anywhere else and probably less.

Hm. No comment.

Do you carry everything on your back?

No and yes. No, because every week (more or less) I stop into a town to buy supplies and pick up a package at the post-office--mainly food and exhaustible provisions like repair kits, medical supplies, and film. Yes for all the hours of the week between towns . . . some of which include rain, but all of which exclude Jacuzzis.

Never carry more than eight days of food on your back. It's a mistake.

Exactly where do you go to the bathroom while on the Trail?

I'm very glad you asked this question. It shows we are becoming more comfortable with each other.

What are some catch-phrases and organizations I can casually mention to impress my environmentally-conscious friends?

Low-impact Hiking. This is a nifty phrase that says, "Hey, why don't we try to do as little damage as possible while we stomp all over Creation?" Hiking can be a very selfish activity, if done improperly, so drop this phrase whenever possible to impress others with your conscientiousness. The notion also encompasses sub-elements such as, "Let's not litter," and, "Let's not burn down the forests," and even, "Let's not alarm the wildlife."

The Appalachian Trail Conference. These are the volunteers who coordinate maintenance of the Trail, working alongside many other organizations to cut a narrow swath from Georgia to Maine. Good folks, I've been told, although I haven't met all of them so I can't be sure. *** Bonus Green-Points*** Join the ATC, and sew your complimentary ATC patch on your backpack or hat or car.

About the bathroom thing . . .

Well, since it's part of low-impact hiking, I suppose I should explain. It involves trowels and digging six-inch holes and staying away from water sources.

Is that like what the bears do?


What will you eat on the Trail?

This is where my naiveté really shines, because I expect my tastes will change during the course of the trip. I've picked up a number of suggestions from books and other hikers, and I decided to buy a food dehydrator.


I'm not sure that many hikers actually go to this trouble, but I'm hoping it will pay off in, 1. cost, and 2. taste. The House & Home dehydrator that I bought cost $30, and consists of a hair dryer and a bunch of plastic trays. The trays stack to form a transparent cylinder on top of the base (which contains the hair dryer); a lid completes the structure and it ends up about the size and shape of a covered cake platter. Food, of course, gets artistically sliced and arranged onto the trays, where it loses moisture at a rate slightly lower than the rate your electrical bill increases.

Most foods take about sixteen hours to dehydrate. I've dehydrated tomatoes, green peppers, peas, green beans, apples, bananas, pineapple, jalepeños, onion, pears, spinach, sausage, and my roommate. The yummiest by far is the pineapple; the others will be chiefly useful in cooking real meals months away from a refrigerator--most dehydrated foods will be fine even after six months or a year. "Fine," that is, in the sense of, "dubious texture and tenuous flavor, but still nutritious."

Very dubious texture. Okay, I'll be fair: it wasn't a mistake to buy the dehydrator. But no matter what wonderful concoctions I concocted, no matter how many different combinations of veggies and spices I combined, the Lipton noodles still tasted better. So it was fun, and perhaps nutritious, but not necessarily worth the time and effort. Plus my roommate still hasn't fully rehydrated yet, even though we've had him in the bathtub for four months.

Breakfast is oatmeal, cooked over a tiny white gas stove.

Yeah, right. For the first two weeks, and then never again. If anyone wants twenty pounds of rolled oats, let me know. Yuk.

Lunch is a big snack taken in the middle of the day. Supper will follow the course of a supply cycle between towns, dictated by the availability of fresh produce at the start, dehydrated supplies in the middle, and pre-made meals at the end. I'm told that Lipton noodles (and, I would add, Kraft Cheese and Macaroni) are a hiker's best friend.

That paragraph was sufficiently vague so that I can't come up with anything to say about it.

What are trail-names and do you have one?

I'm not sure how or why the tradition started, but all thru-hikers get branded with a nickname while they are on the Trail. I imagine the motivation is primarily safety, but secondarily the secret desire to give yourself a cool name like "Eggman." Trail names are used in conversation and also signed in registers at shelters. Yes, I've picked out a name, but I'm too embarrassed to share it outright. It's five letters long. It has to do with my flute playing and my tweed-jacket tobacco smoking.

I'm not embarrassed to say it anymore. Piper. Piper. PIPER. Ha! I'll shout it to the world! "PIPER," I'll shout, laughing with glee!

I got used to it.

Some favorite trail names from this year:

How much does your pack weigh?

Let's not think about that. It has a lot to do with perception of weight more than actual measurable forces. People for many years have believed that the man accused of witchcraft (warlocky?) in the Salem witch trials was crushed by millstones. Actually, it was AT packs.

Between 35 (yippee) and 55 (groan) pounds. I developed a pack-weight philosophy which had me shucking ounces one minute and defending useless pounds the next. Whatever. Who cares. I made it, right?

What does "Eywt Katat Bwata" mean?

It's a Pali phrase related to the Sanskrit "evaita katshya bvatnum," which means, "Where exactly do you go to the bathroom?"

No. Actually it's just a stupid acronym which belongs to the sentence that starts, "Everything You Wanted To Know . . ."

What do you plan to think about while you hike for five months?

Assuming I don't injure myself in the first week, I'll have a good amount of time outdoors that I'd like to dedicate to God. It's not that he speaks louder in the mountains than in the city, but I listen better. It's a kind of fasting: not really in the sense of going without, but in the sense of a time of devotion. Perhaps when I return I'll have a clearer idea of what to do with my life.

Yes, I have a clearer idea. I very clearly do not yet want to clarify.

That is, I have realized that I am not yet ready to set my life's course in stone. Partly I am addicted to the kind of freedom and spontaneity that I found on the Trail. Partly I discovered that the Trail was not a good place to think -- my thoughts didn't fill the silence; instead, the silence poured into my mind.

I'm afraid my indecision is not a very grandparent-pleasing conclusion, but I trust that I will find the correct path as I start to walk. What's more, I'm hoping that I am already on the correct path and going the right direction: Even though I can't see the next white blaze, I think it's around the corner. Or maybe two corners. I've got patience. As I wrote to a friend, some major lessons on the trail have given me a very Jonah-esque feeling, like I can't escape the will of God even if I tried. Kind of a nice feeling, really.

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