My sister lives in Maryland, and I live in Pennsylvania. We have a quirky tradition that helps us stay in touch. It’s called Annual Sister Backpacking Adventure Thingy (ASBAT). You will have to forgive the name. I made it up in my teens, and now, it’s tradition. Every year, we pick a weekend to go hiking on the Appalachian Trail (aka “The AT”). For more than 10 years now, we have been packing up our gear annually to literally walk away from our day-to-day lives for a weekend and get back to nature.
It’s refreshing, tough (I’m a bit out of shape somehow every time we go) and exhausting all at the same time and I love it. Here are my seven favorite parts of hiking the AT:
- Navigating Doesn’t Have to Be Your Strong Point: The path is marked with white spray paint lines, called blazes, on the trees along the trail. As long as you have seen a white blaze recently, you can be pretty sure you’re going the right way.
- You Meet Interesting People That You Might Never Meet Otherwise: There are shelters and campsites along the trail where you run into other hikers. So, you end your days sitting around a campfire with strangers exchanging stories and talking about life. No one knows what anyone else does for a living, what their job titles are or, how much they make a year. And, for the most part, no one even cares enough to ask. It’s just people being themselves. On our most recent trip, we met a grandfather who loves researching the future and chasing his eight grandchildren around to hug them. He said he spends his days “hassling his grandkids” and takes that job very seriously. We also met a woman from Alabama who was out for a 14-day hike. She’s doing the whole trail in sections and started hiking as a kid with her dad.
- You Appreciate Simple Luxuries for Five Minutes After You Get Home: Hiking is hard. I come home tired, with blisters on my feet and sore muscles. But…when I get back from hiking a shower is the best shower, food tastes better and for a few minutes running water is amazing. A few days in the woods relying on only what you can carry on your back and treating water from a stream makes everything that much better when you get home. I always go back to taking these things for granted pretty quickly, but it’s nice to find myself appreciating them for a minute or two.
Treated water from a spring.
- The Views Are Amazing: My sister is planning to connect the sections of the AT that we complete, and some that she’ll be completing on separate trips, so that eventually she will have hiked the whole trail, which runs from Maine to Georgia. This year, we finished Maryland with a hike that included Washington Monument. At the top of the Monument, you can see Pennsylvania. It’s gorgeous up there and worth checking out.
- You Can Make Up a Silly Trail Name: There are notebooks in the shelters along the trail where hikers sign in and write journal entries about their experiences. Instead of signing their real names, hikers sign made up nicknames or trail names. These are the kinds of names you would expect to find in a hippie commune like Flower, Sunshine, Twiggy or Luna.
- Your Dog Can Totally Come Too: Forget putting your dog in overnight care. Dogs are welcome on the trail as long as you clean up after them. We started out bringing out childhood dog, Tasha. Then, we brought my sister’s German Shepherds, Sophie and Deacon, and, for the past two years, we started bringing my rescue mutt, Ella. We have a dog backpack so that the dog we bring can carry kibble, poop bags and a bit of water. At one point, we even had hiking booties to cover paws, but we have given up on dogs wearing those over the years.
Meg and Ella during our 2016 trip. This was Ella’s first year going.
- I Get to Have An Awesome Tradition With My Sister: It is still crazy to me that we have been doing ASBAT consecutively for more than 10 years. No matter what is going on in our lives, we always make time for this weekend of hiking in the woods. We get to spend time together, it doesn’t cost anything to hike, and we have years of memories from different ASBATs. My sister brings riddles that I guess the answers to while we hike. We also get to sing Disney songs every year because six miles into the woods there are no witnesses for a performance of “Part of Your World,” or, “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King.” Someday, when my niece, who is three, is old enough we’ll have to add some extra letters to make it “Annual Sister Daughter/Niece Backpacking Adventure Thingy” or “ASDNBAT.” I can’t wait to bring her!