Monday, August 24, 2015

Gimme Shelter

Be it ever so humble...

One of the most interesting aspects of hiking the AT is the shelter system. There are approximately 300 shelters along the length of the Trail, all intended for use by hikers, both long- and short-term. While the size and design of shelters varies, most are simple wooden structures, enclosed on three sides, with a sleeping platform that'll accommodate about six people. Hike in, roll out your pad and bag, and make yourself at home.
Taking a break at a typical AT shelter (the Tom Floyd Wayside, 2010).
Shelters are popular destinations. There's usually a reliable water source, a roof over your head and the company of your fellow hikers to socialize with. But one major downside of shelters is also the company of your fellow hikers. Simply put, it's sometimes hard to get a good night's sleep when you're listening to your bunkmates snore (and it cuts both ways, since I'm a snorer...). Not to mention, many AT shelters are infested with mice (and worse). The pitter-patter of tiny feet running around your bag and the gnawing of tiny teeth burrowing into your gear doesn't always make for prime sleeping. Still, a dry shelter with good company can be a cozy place during a rainy night on the trail.
Staking my claim at Hurricane Mountain Shelter, 2013.

 Tenting tonight...

It's not wise to count on shelters for your nightly accommodations. While plentiful, shelters aren't always evenly spaced, so you may find yourself having to go further or fewer miles than you'd planned if you're committed to staying in one. And there's no guarantee there's going to be space when you get there. That's why most hikers carry a tent, tarp, or hammock with them.
My tent (a Henry Shire TarpTent Moment) drying out after a couple of wet days in 2013.
A tent offers privacy and a little more peace and quiet than you'll find in a shelter, but there are downsides. Packing up a wet tent after a rainy night isn't a lot of fun. And finding a good, level tent site isn't always easy. Plus, sleeping by yourself in the woods can take a little getting used to. Even a squirrel rummaging around in leaves brings visions of a T Rex invading your camp until you get used to it. Still, all things considered, a good tent site on a pleasant night is hard to beat.
Morning coffee in the tent, near Mt. Rogers, VA, 2013.

 Next time -- Hostels, motels, and resupply.

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