ANDOVER- As you’re sitting down to read this story, Clay and Lindsay Smith will have successfully traversed about 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail. The couple started their adventure from Springer Mountain in Georgia last Wednesday.
After dedicating almost ten years of his life to military life, getting blown up while in Afghanistan and suffering a traumatic brain injury (TBI), Clay decided he needed to do what he could now, “because you never know what I’ll be like when I’m at retiring age. You just have no way of telling what effects the TBI will have 30 years down the road. Neither of us want to look back with regret.”
Clay always knew he wanted to one day hike The Trail, but it has only been in the last two years that he and his wife have gotten serious about it and started planning.
“We’ve collected gear over the past couple years,” stated Lindsay. “Figuring out what works, what’s too heavy, what the necessities are. Our planning got real serious this winter when we returned from a six month work to stay program in New Zealand.”
“We’re excited, but trying to be realistic,” stated Clay. “Let’s face it, we’ve been ramping up on this for more than two years. It’s time to stop talking, stop planning and start walking.”
One might wonder what a person goes through to prepare their packs and gear for the estimated six-month journey. Well, the Smiths spent time wearing their rain gear in the shower to test its’ waterproofing abilities, spent weeks dehydrating foods 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and did I mention that they are planning for their dog, Hunter to join them?
Not only will they be carrying their “households” for the next six months, but, Hunter will be carrying his own pack containing his dog food, collapsible bowl and doggie meds for the trail.
“My parents will be coming down to meet us once we make it through the Smokie Mountains, where dogs aren’t allowed,” noted Clay. “We figure that will be about week three.”
“It will be good timing,” added Lindsay. “We will have had some time to get used to the trail, get our trail legs under us and find a routine with one another before we bring him into the mix.”
Hunter trained with his pack before the Smiths left for Georgia, taking walks with his pack and getting used to how it felt.
“I figure he’ll be carrying about 10-percent of his body weight,” stated Clay.
Hunter will carry two one-gallon bags of dog food to last him eight days.
“He doesn’t like to be wet,” stated Clay. “So, it will be interesting to see how he handles crossing streams and walking through the rain. He has his own raingear and he’ll be packing his own bed mat, too.”
“Much of what we do in a day will depend on Hunter,” stated Clay. “If he’s having a really hard time with the terrain and his pack, then we’ll split up his pack weight and really pay attention to how he’s handling things. Our plan is to have him with us until we get to Andover and then we’ll leave him with my parents for the last couple weeks of our trip. The terrain through Maine will be too tough for him.”
The Smiths have planned 12 mail drops, containing food resupply, clothing and other essentials for every 10-18 days along the trail. Clay’s mom, Donna, will be mailing those out on a schedule of what Clay and Lindsay figured before they departed.
“We have all our boxes numbered,” stated Lindsay. “If we decide that we need something from box nine and we’re only expecting box three, we’ll call Donna and let her know what we need. What can we say,” laughed Lindsay. “We’re preppers.”
“We’re feeling like it’s a lot,” stated Clay. “We had a bit of a challenge packing food for Lindsay since she’s gluten free, but we made our own granola without any wheat and we’re really paying attention to what we have in resupply, since it may be pretty hard to find gluten free meals in trail towns.”
Being a logistics manager for the Army during his last year of enlistment was a great help in preparing Clay for his role in organizing this trip.
“It was my job, so this is natural for me,” stated Clay.
The couple had the mileage broken down to hike an average of 13.7 miles a day in order to be home to Katahdin in 160 days. Their plan is to hke a bit more, upwards of 17.5 miles a day through the “easy” sections of West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. They expect it will take them about 25 days to traverse those five states.
“We’re not kidding ourselves,” stated Lindsay. “We know some days are going to be tough, we tried to prepare for that. Our frame of mind has been to pack for the things we aren’t planning on.”
Clay added, “Walking through the woods with a full pack, I can do that. I can fix blisters, I can adjust pack weight and calculate mileage from a topo map. What I’m not prepared for his seeing Lindsay struggle. It’ll be hard to not be able to make it easier for her.”
Clay started out with the dry weight of his pack being about 25 pounds, Lindsay’s, approximately 20 and Hunter’s, four pounds. That will be without food or water. Their packs will weigh more due to Lindsay’s gluten intolerance and the specific foods they need to carry.
When asked about necessity versus want; “We considered both necessity and weight while we were packing,” stated Clay. “I can’t imagine sitting on a log or the ground for six months, so I am bringing a camp chair. That’s a necessity to me. Plus, socks. Keeping our feet dry will be huge.”
“I wanted to be as realistic as I could,” stated Lindsay. “We will be living on the trail for five months. We know we have to have our journals with us and our camp shoes. Plus, we wanted to be sure we had good, calorie-rich foods, because we won’t always be able to depend on trail towns.”
For both Clay and Lindsay this will be a time to not only spend some time with one another, but for them to do some soul searching and figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives.
They are waiting for someone on the trail to give them their trail names and agree that they can veto the suggestion once, but then they have to keep the second one. Clay and Lindsay are looking forward to observing the AT culture and finding their place in it while they make their way home.
For anyone dreaming about planning an adventure on the AT, Clay and Lindsay agreed, “You can only wait so long. You’ve just got to start planning and start walking.”
You can follow their journey by visiting their blog at www.bootstobirks.com. They plan to finish the trail on September 30. Enjoy following their adventure.