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Editor’s Note: Pat-Rice wrote this piece on March 1, so she’s even closer to her start date at the time of publishing! Please comment below to wish her luck on her thru-hike!
When March 1st came around it was official, I had 30 days until I boarded a train to Georgia. I had told my co-workers and I had my gear. I had planned to hand in my resignation to my boss that day but I woke up with crippling stomach pain. I barely got out a text to him that I needed a sick day and then I started to panic, how was I going to handle being sick out on the trail? I was able to drag myself out of the bathroom and collapse on the couch and re-evaluate the weekend. I was planning on a shake down hike with my dad, but I could not even stand up.

Ironically, I felt 100% better in an hour. The stomach cramping, nausea and shaking passed. What just happened? Was that an anxiety attack? Am I THAT nervous about quitting my job and running away to the wild? Three months ago, I felt giddy whenever I thought about the AT but now, I think about the AT and feel mostly apprehensive, what am I getting myself into? I have wanted this for so long, is my mind betraying me?

My weekend plans continued but were slightly changed. I was able to travel away from DC back to New Jersey to visit my family and take advantage of the backyard I do not currently have. I had wanted to try out my gear in winter weather but never had the chance. With the flood light of the back yard turned off, I set up my tent in the dark on Friday and settled into the night. It began to rain which turned into sleet and then 4 inches of snow was dumped onto my ultralight tent. The snow moved my rain fly aside and water leaked into my tent. It was a cold night of horrible sleep. My sleeping system (foam pad, 5-degree North Face sleeping bag “the one”, and Odlo Blackcomb base layer clothes) had failed and I was freezing. I woke up multiple times to don an additional layer of socks and my puffy coat, only to continue to freeze. I was able to talk myself up by repeating, “embrace the suck” as I changed into clean clothes. It took me 30 minutes to motivate myself to change, why would you want to completely remove your clothes for new clothes when you are already freezing. I did not want to pee in suburbia so luckily, I was able to sneak back into the house to warm up.

After a couple hours of napping I practiced packing up my backpack and took to a local trail to hike with my father. It was good practice as the trail varied between slosh, snow, rock hopping, boulder climbing and stream crossing over 5-7 miles. I could tell where my body would express soreness after long days of hiking with a pack 19 lbs+. I could also tell what element of the trail would make me lose my mind – being cold. I hiked for 3 hours with my feet ankle deep in water. By the time we got back to the car I was sore, and I could not wait to jump in a hot shower. What a luxury it is to strip off your cold wet clothing and stand under a stream of 105 degree plus water for as long as you want. I wanted to practice a second night in the tent so eventually I coaxed myself back out to the tent…for a second miserable night.

I went to bed warm and woke up 3 hours later cold again from the torso up. I felt around the tent prior to getting in and it had been dry however when waking up in the wee hours of the morning everything felt damp and my pillow was wet. I felt around the roof of the tent for leaks – none. I put my puffy on again and tried to sleep. I managed only to get 3 more hours of sleep until I figured it was time to get up for the day and check out my sleeping situation. I lifted up my foam sleeping pad (that was on top of an inflated sleeping pad) and there were puddles of water in the indents of the foam sleeping pad…huh? The pillow was now completely wet on the front and bottom sides. When I lifted the entire sleeping system, I found a giant puddle of water exactly where I slept. The rest of the morning was dedicated to figuring out how water got into my tent on a rainless night and how to dry out my gear on an overcast day. I left my parents’ house frustrated. This past weekend left me sleep deprived and aghast as to how I can stay dry and warm on the trail. I will not have a house that I can slip into as a backup, and hypothermia is a real thing to fear!

As defeating as this past weekend was, this “shake down hike” was completely necessary. The time to make mistakes is prior to the trail not when I will be isolated in pristine wilderness. It is also a giant wake up call. Ensuring that you have properly staked out your tent is necessary 100% of the time no ifs, ands, or buts. I also tried out my alcohol stove, which was my chosen cook system for the last 8 months…only to find that I could not get it to light the entire weekend. I thought that I was fully prepared for the AT but it seems that I need more preparation for this massive undertaking, not only in my gear selections but in my inner motivation as well. I am kicking my butt into high gear because the days are ticking by and April 1st (my start date) is approaching fast whether I am ready or not. Happy Trails!