Keeping it Raw? Actually Backpackers You Might Still Want to Treat Your Stream Water

Crossing Streams in the Andes

When I come across a bunch of raw water in the backcountry, what do I do? Sometimes I swim in it, sometimes I desperately try to avoid it in the hopes of staying dry, and sometimes I drink it. When I drink it, do I keep it raw? Very rarely. During my Appalachian Trail (AT) and Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) thru-hikes, the most popular approaches when it came to drinking raw water were to:

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Lost and Alone: A Solo Thru-Hiker’s Perspective


26 days lost, alone, and starving. Inchworm (Geraldine Largay) had gotten lost while backpacking along the Appalachian Trail and had survived for at least 26 days before perishing in the backwoods of Maine. I didn’t want to imagine it, but as I read the heart-wrenching words in her journal, imploring whoever found her body to let her loved ones know that she was dead and where to find her, I couldn’t help it. It’s the kind of thing that both tragic heroes and horror stories are made of.

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Into the (100 mile) Wilderness (Days 143-148)


Back when I was in Virginia I felt like I was just one of 3 or 4 people on the trailI, and I worried that I would be the only person left by the time that I got to Maine. As I hiked North, however, the trails got more and more crowded. By the time I got to Maine I’d long since caught up to “the bubble” that I’d been chasing since Georgia (The bubble is the large concentration of thru-hikers that end up bunching up together and moving up the trail in a big group).

Being in the bubble meant that suddenly there were a lot more social interactions and goings on on the trail. Each new group of people I met filled me in on the current trail gossip. It reminded me a little bit of the cliques that formed in high school, but much more welcoming. All of the people I met were incredibly open and instantly included me in their groups (definitely an improvement over high school).

The fact that I was in the bubble now was incredibly obvious to me as I entered the 100 mile wilderness (one of the most rugged and remote sections of the trail) and had to wade through the remnants of the previous evenings trailhead thru-hiker keg party. Though everyone was excited and celebrating our last resupply before the end of the trip, I had opted to hang out with friends at the bar in town instead of going to the kegger in the woods. I’ve been tempted to think of the bubble as a roving frat party in the past (full of 20 something boys partying their way up the AT) and the idea of the keg party in the woods did nothing to dissuade me of that particular notion, though I think the last kegger in the woods I went to was in high school not college.

With my backpack fully loaded with 7+ days of food I navigated around the keg , the coolers, the sleeping (or sleepwalking) bodies, and the haphazardly pitched tents. It seemed unlikely that anyone from that crowd would make it very far that day. Within a mile the signs of the party had vanished and I felt like I was *really* entering the wilderness.

This was it, the last 100 miles of the trip. It was hard to believe that the adventure was almost over. I wanted to savor every last minute of it!

I came to the first river fording in time to see my friend Rainbow Bright pushing her pack across a rope balance line as she waded across the knee deep river. She shouted some advice my way as I took my boots off, rolled up my pants, and prepared to ford my first river since the Carabasset River fiasco (I think I can finally talk about that river without swearing). I crossed the river without any trouble at all and decided to sit and lounge in the sun by the river and chat with Rainbow Bright for a while.


One of the advantages of our lounging location was that we got to watch Twigs and then Hotshot attempt to ford the river when they caught up to us. Though Twigs and I had both managed to ford that river without falling in, both Rainbow Bright and Hotshot slipped and got a bit wetter than they’d hoped.


By the time we’d forded the next two rivers I was the only one left with a completely dry pack. I figured I’d payed my dues to the river Gods with the hour and a half that I’d spent waist deep in the Carabasset River, so I didn’t feel too bad about it.

Though there are disadvantages to catching up to the bubble (like having to wade through keg parties on the trail), there are definite advantages as well (like fording rivers with friends). The major advantage of catching up to the bubble is the opportunity to hike with old and new friends. Heading into the 100 mile Wilderness I had friends hiking with me, friends ahead of me, and friends behind me. It was a good feeling, and a great note to start the beginning of the end on.

In addition to the companionship, having friends around is really helpful if you run into any glitches. After hiking solo for 2100 miles I thought that I’d already worked through most of the glitches, but it’s never too late to run into trouble. My first night in the 100 mile wilderness I went to cook my food and discovered that somehow all of my fuel (denatured alcohol) had disappeared. I sat down and pouted at my stove… It wasn’t going to work without any fuel.

As I sat there pouting, Rainbow Bright bounced into the shelter. She cheered me up almost immediately, offered to boil water for me that day and tried to coordinate a fuel drop for me on Monday (from Night Train). Everybody I met offered me fuel and I was once again happy to be in the bubble and surrounded by so many awesome people.


Despite the kind offers of fuel, I ended up heating things up old school. I did all of my cooking in the 100 mile wilderness by campfire. Cooking by campfire was awesome, it heated my water more quickly than my alcohol stove, it kept me warm as the chill of the fall evenings set in, and campfires are still the height of hiker TV. Almost every night in the 100 mile wilderness there were 6-12 people hanging out by the campfire as hiker midnight (7 pm) came and went.


All of us were trying to savor our last week on the trail and dealing with the realization that we were actually going to make it… We’d hiked from Georgia to Maine and now, after endless trials and tribulations, after good times and bad… Katahdin was finally in sight.