Location: The Appalachian Trail
Distance: 6.5 miles to the Kirkridge Shelter and then back the next day
Elevation: 1549 feet
The competitors: Alex and Mike
The question: Who will come out as the superior backpacker?
Your narrator: Mike Nuckols
Category 1: Pacing Yourself
For better or worse, I approach life as a to-do list. Whether it’s eating a meal or doing my Christmas shopping, I go full force towards my goal until I collapse. Backpacking is no different.
But Alex takes breaks. A lot of them. Whenever he says, “let’s rest at the next rock,” I find myself thinking: “Come on! Let’s keep pushing!” But then I rest and find that I needed a break as well. We’ll sit on a nice rock, eat some trail mix, and chatter away. Plus we see some cool stuff while we’re hanging out.
That’s really the way to do it, and if it weren’t for Alex I would push through the entire 6.5 miles – only stopping when I’m ready to drop.
Category 2: Eating habits
Shani has imparted terrific eating habits on my boys. They eat until they’re full and then they stop.
On the other hand, I generally eat like I’m headed to the electric chair. I never stop until my plate is clean. I never stop when I’m full. I stop when I’m stuffed. This is usually a bad thing – unless you’re burning through 5-6 thousand calories a day.
At camp breakfast, Alex didn’t finish his oatmeal and just nibbled a few dried apples. We got a half mile before the boy bonked. We had to sit for 30 minutes while he devoured half a pound of trail mix and a pound of dried cherries.
Category 3: Being comfortable around “freaky weird people”
Shelters on the AT are first-come first-serve. Last year we had the shelter to ourselves. When I told Alex we might have to share it this time, he told me:
“I am NOT staying with freaky weird people!”
When we reached the shelter there were 3 guys from Virginia who were trekking from New Jersey to North Carolina. Alex and I set up a tent at a clearing nearby. After our tent was set up, we went to the shelter to cook hot dogs over the fire, but it started pouring rain. Minutes later, 4 local high-school kids (total hippies) rushed in from their campsite in a nearby field. We were all huddled under the shelter as the storm passed.
“Smell that, Alex?”
“Does it make you want to try it?”
Category 4: Going Shirtless
So it was hot. Hot and humid as hell. So Alex decided to pack shirtless – and eventually, so did I.
Alex is CUT. He swims an hour a day and dives an hour a day. Me, I cut a very different form. Thank God there weren’t a lot of ladies along the trail who would have lost control at the sight of my daddy abs.
Category 5: Telling the people we love how we feel about them
We got into great conversations on the trail and at the campsite.
- Alex described how he felt about his friends. “What I like about my grade is that no one is really popular. Everyone is the same and we’re all friends.”
- He ranked every type of dried fruit he’d ever eaten. “And cherries are the best, of course.”
- He went through the entire Egyptian creation mythos. “Then Set tempted him into a coffin and then connected him with the underworld.”
But at least once an hour, one of us would just blurt out: “I’m having so much fun – I love you so much! Thanks for doing this.”
We got into a long conversation about telling people that we love them. I’m really good at this (sometimes to the point where it becomes uncomfortable). Alex is also good about it. Although he doesn’t say it to Jack “because that wouldn’t be brotherly.”
Category 6: How to date Taylor Swift
It was a 2-hour car ride to get to the trailhead and 2 hours back the next day. Alex had Taylor Swift albums loaded up and we listened to them the entire time while he sang along in the back seat.
He told me, at length, what the expectations were for dating Taylor Swift. In fact, he let me know: “If you don’t get at least 2 songs written about you, that’s a fail.”
Who won? You decide.
Here are a few more photos.
Finally…the video. This is at Eureka Springs. We had run out of water 2 miles earlier. We stopped here for 30 minutes, filled up on water, waded in the cool water. A terrific stop.
And because I love you (see what I did there?) – a bonus video. I give you…the chicken walk.