Final AT Post!

Well, this has been a long time coming!  I finished the trail on October 22, 2011.  My friends and I rented out an entire hostel and filled it with friends and family.  We all hiked the last 3 miles into the Harpers Ferry ATC together the next day.  It was the perfect ending to an amazing experience!  Since I’ve been back I’ve been going through my journal and putting together all of the data from my hike.  It’s all in a spreadsheet that you can check out here: AT Data(Excel), AT Data(PDF).  Feel free to use the data to create your own problems or classroom exercises, or use it to plan your own hike!

Now I am living in New York City and working as a Scenic Painter at a company that rents props to movies and TV shows.  I plan on continuing to blog about this new adventure of living and working in the city.  I hope you continue to read!

Check out the two youtube videos I made about my hike here:

And the two newspaper articles about my hike can be found here:

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Finish Date

The finish date is the day that thru-hikers plan on ending their hikes. A lot of thru-hikers come out with a set finish date. That means they have to stop hiking on that day, even if they hadn’t done all the miles yet. People might have set finish dates if they have jobs or school to get back to. Other hikers have dates they would like to finish by, but if something happens and they get behind schedule they can always move that date back. 

When I first started my hike I wanted to finish by September 28th, because that’s my dad’s 60th birthday. To make sure I finished by then, I had to figure out about how many miles I should hike each day. I started hiking on March 31st. Finishing on September 28th would mean 182 days of hiking. The whole trail is 2,181 miles long. To find out how many miles I would need to average a day to meet my finish date, I divide the 2,181 by the 182 days. How many miles a day would I have to hike?

From March 31st to June 17th I hiked 1,014 miles. How many miles a day did I average? Was I on track to finish by my dad’s birthday?

Then I took two weeks off for a family vacation. When I got back on trail I noticed that my foot was hurting a lot. I ended up having a stress fracture, which means I can’t hike as quickly as I used to. I have been back on trail now for 59 days, but I have only hiked 486 miles. How many miles a day am I averaging now?

I have 681 miles left to hike now. Today is August 29th. What will my new finish date be if my average stays the same?  How many miles a day would I have to average from now on to finish by my dad’s birthday? 

Since I can’t hike fast enough to finish by my dad’s birthday anymore, I had to set a new finish date. Now I want to finish by October 20th. How many miles a day do I need to average now?

My foot is starting to feel much better, so I think I can make my new finish date, but it’s not a big deal if I don’t. It just means I’ll have to keep hiking for longer, and I like hiking. I will take a break on September 28th though, so I can go home for Dad’s birthday. 

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Picking a Good Campsite

Once you’ve decided what kind of shelter you want to sleep in, you have to figure out where you want to sleep. This means picking out a good campsite. 

A good campsite looks different depending on what kind of shelter you’re sleeping in. If you’re sleeping in an AT shelter, than a good campsite has a nice shelter in it. There should be no holes in the floor or ceiling, no mice, and a nice flat raised floor to sleep on. 

If you’re camping in a tent or under a tarp, than there are a few other things you need to look for. You want a flat piece of ground to set up on, with no rocks poking out. You also don’t want any dead branches hanging over you that might fall on you if a big wind blows through. The ground also has to be soft enough for your tent stakes to go in.  Finally, you want to make sure that you are not in a ditch, or a low part of the ground. If you are in a ditch and it rains, you could get a puddle of water pooling up in your tent. 

A hammock is a little different. You don’t need to worry about the ground as much. You just need two trees that are the right distance apart.  You want the ground in between to be slightly even because you don’t want to trip on anything getting out of the hammock. You also still have to check for dead branches, and definitely don’t tie your hammock to any dead trees!

There are a few other things you might want to consider when picking a campsite. If there is a thunderstorm then you don’t want to be the tallest thing at your campsite. Make sure there are tall trees around so lightening hits them instead of you. Also, if you want to be around other hikers you might want to camp close to a shelter. Another reason to camp near a shelter would be if you want to have a campfire. Campfires are only allowed in certain areas, and building your own fire ring is against the law in most states. It’s always nice to have a log or something else to sit on at your campsite. It’s also a really good idea to camp next to a water source, like a small stream or a river. The very best campsites have picnic tables, fire rings with grates on them for cooking, and a river that you can swim in and a stream you can get water from. 

Now that you know a bit about how to choose a good campsite, try this activity: Pick one kind of shelter. On one side of a piece of paper, draw an example of a good campsite for that kind of shelter. On the other side of the paper, draw an example of a bad campsite for that kind of shelter. Trade papers with a friend and see if they can guess which is the bad campsite and which is the good one and what kind of shelter the campsite is good for. What about the bad campsite made it bad?  Next time you’re out hiking or walking outdoors, look around. See if you can find some examples of good and bad campsites. 

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One big thing you have to think about when you hike the Appalachian Trail is where you are going to sleep. The most important thing you have to remember is that anything you bring has to be carried on your back every day.

Shelter 1

Shelter 2



The shelters are one option. I talked a bit about those in the last entry. You could try to do a thru-hike where you just plan on staying in a shelter every night. That would be the lightest option, because you would only have to bring a sleeping bag and a pad to sleep on. But shelters can fill up before you get there. Sometimes the other hikers in the shelter snore, and that can make it hard to sleep. Some shelters are dirty and have mice living in them. There’s also no way to protect yourself from the bugs when you sleep in a shelter.



Another lightweight option is to bring along a tarp. You’ll need a piece of plastic or Tyvek to cover the ground. The tarp will protect you from the rain if you set it up right, but bugs can still get to you and if it’s a windy night rain can blow in.

Tarp Set-up 1

Tarp Set-up 2

You also can buy all kinds of shaped bug nets. You can use a bug net under a tarp or in a shelter to protect yourself from bugs.

Bivy Sack

Bivy Sack Under a Tarp


Then there are bivy sacks. These are basically waterproof, breathable bags that fit over your sleeping bag. Most of them have a mesh area that goes over your face. A lot of hikers use bivy sacks and tarps together. Bivy sacks are super light and they keep the rain an bugs out, but there’s not much room in them to move around. Also, sometimes your breathe causes moisture to form inside the bivy sack because there’s no room for a breeze to blow the moisture away. When moisture forms on the inside of a tent it is called condensation.




Most thru-hikers carry lightweight tents. These can weigh anywhere from a pound to five pounds.

A Variety of Tents

More Tents



The lightest ones tend to still have a lot of condensation, and they can fall over in high winds. The heaviest ones have bug nets, ground tarps, and rain covers. These are the most comfortable ones, but you have to be willing to carry the extra weight. Tents and tarps need to be set up on dry, flat sections of ground to be the most comfortable.

Hammock Set-up

Hammock with Tarp








Another shelter option that is getting more and more popular is the backpacking hammock. Some hammocks come with bug nets sewn on top of them. There are a lot of specially shaped tarps now that are made to hang over hammocks. Hammocks can be cold because the wind blows right underneath and around them. You can get something called an underquilt to help keep you warm. An underquilt is basically a small sleeping bag that hangs along the bottom of your hammock to keep your back warm. Some hammocks are lighter than tents. Some are heavier. It depends on what materials the hammock is made out of. Hammocks also don’t need flat sections of ground. You just need two trees the right distance apart.



What would you carry if you were thru-hiking?  Would you combine a few different things, or just buy a tent?  Would you switch to something different once the weather got warmer?

I’ve met some thru-hikers that made their own shelters. Do you think you could design yourself a lightweight, comfortable, bug proof and rain proof shelter?  What materials would you use?

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Shelter Logs

A Typical AT Shelter

Along the Appalachian Trail there are buildings called shelters. They usually have 3 walls and a raised floor to sleep on. Thru-hikers will usually stop at shelters to cook and eat. We’ll mostly sleep in our tents nearby, but if it’s a rainy night we’ll sleep in the shelter.

Two Shelter Logs


Almost every shelter has a notebook in it called a shelter log. Hikers write in the shelter logs to let people know they were there. Thru-hikers use it as a way to leave messages for people that are behind them on the trail. Most people write something about their day and say where they’re

Shelter Log Entry 1

heading for the night.  Since cell phones don’t work in most of the places we hike through, and you can only get Internet in towns, shelter logs are the best way for thru-hikers to stay in touch and keep track of each other. They’re also a way for hikers to leave their marks without creating graffiti.

The interesting thing about shelter logs is that after you write in them, you usually hike away. That means you never get to see anyone’s responses to what you write, and you don’t get to say anything back to people ahead of you.

People write all sorts of things in shelter logs. Some people just write their names. Some people write comments about how their day went. Other people write tips about the shelter or water sources. A few people draw pictures.

What would you write?

Shelter Log Entry 2

Shelter Log Entry 3

Shelter Log Entry 4

Some people call shelter logs ‘Hiker Facebook’.  In what way is a shelter log like Facebook or twitter?  How is it different?

Try starting a shelter log in your classroom. Get a notebook and have a different student take it home each night and write in it. Once you have written in it and passed it along, you are not allowed to see it again until it is full. Once everyone in the class has gotten to write a message in it, pass it along to another classroom.  Did any of the entries before yours surprise you? Which was your favorite entry?

Sometimes a shelter doesn’t have a log in it. When that happens, a hiker will donate one of their own notebooks. They’ll usually write a message in the front of the book with their address in it.  That way when the log book is full the last hiker can mail it back to the person it belonged to. That one person gets to see all of the entries written by the people behind them.

Can you think of any places where you would like to leave a shelter log?

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Calories and Energy

Today’s entry is about food and energy. When you’re doing a lot of exercising, like hiking every day, you’re using lots of energy. Your body gets energy from food. If you don’t eat enough and you exercise a lot your body uses your own body fat for energy. When you run out of body fat, you start to burn muscle tissue for energy. Thru-hikers are exercising all the time. To make sure we don’t lose any muscle we have to eat a lot of food. The amount of energy in food is measured in calories. 

I’ve been told a thru-hiker my size should eat 4,000 calories a day, or more to stay in shape. If a normal person ate that much and didn’t exercise they would get fat. Normally people eat about 2,000 calories a day. I have to change what I eat and how often I eat in order to make sure I get enough calories. 

Here is a list of foods I normally eat on the trail and the calories per serving in each. 

Oatmeal packet   130 Calories
1 Pop tart 200
Coffee mix   160
Honey Bun   250
Carnation Instant Breakfast 220

Skippy Peanut Butter   190
Bagel    140
Nutella    200
Hummus   60
Cheese    65

Nutrigrain bar  120
Granola bar  140
Fiber One bar   140
Oats N Honey bar  190
Chewy Oatmeal Raisin bar  90
Trail Mix  (3 Tbsn)  160
Dried Mango  (6 pieces)  160
Mangos and Berries  (1/3 c)  100
Dried Cherries  (1/3 c)  130
Protein Powder  (1 scoop)  110
Tang  (1/2 scoop)  90

Trail Dad’s Spaghetti     1,240
Gado Gado     1,209
Black Bean Quinoa    923
Garlic Lentil  618
Sweet Pepper Pasta   602
Tomato Parmesan  714
Mountain Pesto   842
Swiss Miss 1 env.   120

Which foods have the most calories? Why would it be necessary for me to eat stuff like dried fruit and hummus even though there aren’t many calories in those? What other helpful things (other than energy) do you get from food? See if you can make a healthy meal plan for me that will give me enough calories. Keep in mind that I can eat more than one serving of each item.   What about the stuff you eat at home? Are there too many calories in your foods, or too few? Are you exercising enough to get rid of the extra calories?

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Pledges Update

I mentioned in my other blog that I have recently been blown away by the generosity and kindness I have seen on the trail. The people that I meet out here, whether they know it or not, are supporting Teach for America and Beardsley School by supporting my hike and by helping keep me positive so I can keep on climbing those mountains!

I’ve also been overwhelmed by the generosity that I have seen coming from my friends and family back home. Pledges have continued to come in, and I have not only tripled, but almost quadrupled my original goal!!

I now have a total of $3.80 per mile pledged for my hike!!!! That is so far beyond what I ever could have raised on my own. The money is going to mean so much to Beardsley School and to Teach For America. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone that has supported me so far!

Students, here’s your challenge: If the Appalachian Trail is 2,181 miles long, and I’m raising $3.80 for every mile I hike, how much will I have raised when I finish the whole trail?
I have hiked 339.9 miles so far. How much have I raised so far?

Thank you again to everyone that has helped support me. You all amaze me!

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Camouflage is a way for animals to blend into their surroundings. Animals use camouflage by being the same color as what’s around, or looking the same as what’s around them so predators cannot find them and eat them. One example of an animal using camouflage is a green bug in a field of grass. I’ve been noticing examples of camouflage as I’ve been hiking. I’ve also been noticing animals that aren’t using camouflage. Instead of blending in with their surroundings, these animals stand out. Why do you think an animal would not want to use camouflage?

Take a look at the following pictures. Can you see the critters? Are they using camouflage or not? Why or why not? Can you identify all of the animals in the pictures?







Green Bug

Tiger Swallow-Tail Butterfly

Black Snake



Blue Bug

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Since the beginning of the trip I’ve been wearing a pedometer. They say the Appalachian Trail takes 5 million steps and I wanted to see if that was true. The pedometer has worked pretty well so far, but I think it doesn’t count as accurately on the steep ups and downs because I’m taking smaller steps. Here’s some of the data that I’ve collected so far:

On the 10th I took 30,076 steps and walked 13.29 miles.
On the 13th I took 33,171 steps and walked 14.65 miles.
On the 15th I took 26,643 steps and walked 11.77 miles.
On the 17th I took 32,110 steps and walked 14.19 miles.

There are 5,280 feet in a mile. How big are my steps?
Today I plan on hiking 10 miles. How many steps will that be?
The next mail drop is 67.1 miles away. How many steps is that?

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2 Books

Most of the time on the Appalachian Trail it’s pack up, eat, hike, eat, make camp, eat, sleep, repeat, but sometime you get to a campsite early, or you have a quick dinner and you find yourself with a little downtime.

Most of the time you use this time to hang out with everyone at the shelter and to get to know your fellow thru-hikers, but it’s also really nice to use this time to do something on your own. A lot of people bring books out with them on the trail. Some people carry the whole book and other people cut books into sections and have each section mailed to them as they hike along. I’ve even seen a few hikers reading books on Kindles or other e-readers.

I decided to download 2 books onto my iPhone. It took me a while to decide what 2 books to bring. I finally decided on, ‘Peace is Every Breath’ by Thich Nhat Hanh and, ‘Winnie the Pooh’ by A. A. Milne.

Both books are about living in the present moment and finding joy in small things. Thich Nhat Hanh approaches these topics by talking about spirituality and meditation. He tells his readers to focus on their own breathing and to find peace through the constant in-out pattern of breath. Winnie the Pooh is a children’s story, but you can read some of the same lessons in it. Pooh lives his life in the present moment, and rarely worries about consequences. He notices the small things around him and those things make him happy. When he finds himself in a hard situation, he sings himself a little song and makes the best of it. I thought both books would give me good things to think about on my hike.

Students, what would you bring if you were hiking the AT? Would you bring any books? Would you cut them up? Carry the whole book or just a few quotes? What books would you bring? Why?

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