JENKINS: Hiking the Appalachian Trail: A matter of trail and error

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

Last week I spent time with my 12-year-old Boy Scout at Camp Rainey Mountain in Northeast Georgia. While there I took cold showers, ate several items that could not be conclusively identified as belonging to any of the seven major food groups, and hiked to a place called Big Rock, which turned out to be, well, a big rock.

That hike reminded me of another Scouting adventure I had several years ago, when my then-14-year-old and I, along with seven other members of his troop, trudged 30 miles in five days along the southernmost leg of the Appalachian Trail.

Three other adults made the trek as well, which was nice because they were all more experienced hikers than I and thought to pack important pieces of survival equipment, such as Snickers bars.

That’s not to suggest hiking the Appalachian Trail is always a piece of, er, candy. In fact, it’s not always easy even to make sure you’re actually on the Appalachian Trail. Perhaps that sounds odd: surely the path-like thing winding among the trees is a dead give-away.

But other trails — some marked, some not — cut across the Appalachian Trail. There are also countless side trails made over the years by people wandering off to find water, answer the call of nature, or elude revenuers.

Fortunately, our Scout Master spent $39.95 for topographical maps of the entire trail. These provided indispensable information, such as the fact that we would be going up a mountain, then down, then up again.

Another issue on the Appalachian Trail is water. You’d think, in a rain forest, that wouldn’t be a problem. But on certain parts of the trail, drinking water is scarcer than Rush Limbaugh books in the Obama family library.

After one especially dry segment, I found our two leaders — one originally from Utah, the other from Michigan — poring over the map. Another hiker, they said, had told them there was a T-90 spring just ahead.

“What’s a T-90 spring?” I asked, confessing that I wasn’t up-to-date on the latest back-packing lingo. They just shrugged and said they weren’t sure either.

“Wait a minute,” I said. “Did this guy have a North Georgia accent?”

They confirmed that he did, whereupon I informed them that we were looking not for a “T-90” spring but for a spring that was “tee-niney” — i.e., little bitty.

Fortunately, that tee-niney spring was there, and the water was good to drink, or at least it was after we pumped it through our $70 hand filters, which we kept in our $150 backpacks, to which were attached our $50 sleeping bags, our $25 air mats and our $200 tents.

So, all in all, I would heartily recommend a hiking trip with your son as a slightly less expensive alternative to buying your own island in the Mediterranean. Just make sure you pack plenty of Snickers.

Rob Jenkins is associate professor English and director of The Writers Institute at Georgia Perimeter College. E-mail him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.