Mothman: Anatomy of a Zero Day, 25-Aug-2003

Editor’s note: This is a reprint (with Jim’s permission) of an email from Jim Heaney sent during his “through-hike” of the Appalachian Trail.

4:11am: Mothman wakes with a start—four walls! Where am I? Despite the cold front, the room in the “B&B” he is sharing with Stripe is warm from lack of circulation. He goes down to the porch to read the paper and watch for when the coffee shop across the street opens. A light rain falls intermittently.

6:30am: Coffee shop opens.

6:31am: Mothman descends upon the coffee shop. Orders a cappucino and goes online at the internet kiosk to send email.

7:05am: Presses send. CMo has been waiting patiently for the internet access, so Mothman drinks the rest of the coffee with a piece of coffee cake (“first breakfast”), reading the UNH alumni magazine, which is very good.

7:38am: Retires to the porch at the B&B, where a critical mass of hikers has congregated. Heads to Peg’s Restaurant (with Pace, CMo, Odwalla, Takereasy, and a southbounder named Underpants) for “second breakfast,” which is one egg short of the “big plate.”

8:44am: Walks to the post office to see if his package has arrived. North Woodstock was not originally a planned stop, but he would otherwise have had to carried almost a week’s food into the Whites. So, in Glencliff (the last town before Mt. Moosilauke) on Friday, he sent a box with half the food here. He was pretty sure the box would be in later in the day since—this is true—the Glencliff PO is just a wing on the postmaster’s house—but it has actually arrived. Returns to the B&B.

9:12am: Pace, who arrived at the road crossing nearest here after dark the previous night (making hitch-hiking unlikely) and therefore walked an additional 5.5 miles into town, has rubbed a raw spot on the bottom of one of his feet from the roadwalk. Decides to zero.

9:13am: Hmmm. Zero. Moth hasn’t had a zero since New York. The weather is not great; should he wait it out to enjoy the upcoming day’s scenery? Deciding to NOT walk is a tough call; we walk almost every day. However, we are on pace to finish a few weeks before Katahdin closes, so we have the time for it.

9:14am: Remembers that he has a blister forming on his right hand, from the unusual leaning he has been doing on his trekking poles—they are essentially ski poles with ends that “stick” to rock. The past two days have involved unusually steep ups and downs, so the poles were used differently than before.

9:15am: Mothman commits to the zero. Big smile.

9:48am: Stripe returns from the PO and convenience store with his resupply; however, he has somehow broken his plastic spoon, and now has no eating utensil. There is no outfitter in town to sell similar plastic spoons. The ethics here are sketchy, but given that he wants to hike today, the fastest thing he can do is swipe one from Peg’s. Stripe talks Mothman and Pace into breakfast—for Moth, this is unprecedented “third breakfast—which is one egg, toast and hash browns. The previous night, Moth had two entrees for dinner, so he is now feeling pretty darn full.

10:36am: Pace needs gloves and wants to look at tents—he has been using an ultralight hammock so far, which weighs in at two pounds lighter than the lightest tent and only requires two sturdy trees (as opposed to flat ground) to work, but air gets underneath, and in the cold Whites, that could be a problem. Pace convinces Moth that, even on zero days, some walking prevents the feet from stiffening up. The two leave for a 2 mile town stroll (in comfy camp shoes—mine are running shoes—rather than boots) where they go into a few stores and eventually eat lunch at a pizzeria Pace recalls from skiing Mt. Loon. Return at about 1pm.

1:01pm: Mothman sits around, doing nothing. At this point, Stripe, CMo, Odwalla and Midway have all returned to the AT; Billyboy is going later; Takereasy and Pace are zeroing. Mothman really needs to go through his maildrop. Hikers congregate and chatting commenses.

2:37pm: Mothman opens the maildrop. It is a combination of food—dinners for Moth cycle among pasta, couscous, and instant rice mixed with ramen; all have appropriate seasonings; and all are spiked with textured soy protein (TSP), essentially dehydrated pieces of tofu, which is easily the lightest weight form of protein available (much less water weight than tuna, sausage, jerky) and has Moth feeling like a million bucks so far; breakfasts are cereal with powdered milk; lunches are CLIF bars, snack crackers, nuts, occasional candy, etc.—and supplies that he wanted to try not carrying because he hasn’t been using them too much recently, like DEET, sunglasses, and his book. This box also contained his summer gear and some film he wants to send home to Mothmom. Goes through the pile of stuff, counting up the meals he needs for the next stretch; separating gear into piles of stuff he wants to carry, stuff he can send home, and stuff he is not sure about. The stuff he is not sure about, he will send to himself at the next town about a week from now called Gorham, and if he sends it first class, and decides not to open the box, he can just forward it to the next maildrop. This is known as the “bump box,” and is a common way some hikers send themselves “town clothes” and such that they don’t want to carry.

3:00pm: Happy hour at the brewpub starts, but Moth is lost in his supplies.

3:29pm: Moth gets stuff together and walks to the PO. The box to Mothmom is 2 pounds and the bump box is over 3.5 pounds. He is psyched not to have to carry this weight up Franconia Ridge.

4:11pm: Goes to happy hour. A couple of quiet hikers, befuddled by all the interior noise and lighting. Eats a bowl of chowder and a garlic bread; can’t muster a real meal because of the three breakfasts.

5:30pm: Starts gathering hikers on the porch of the B&B to go see “Pirates of the Carribean” in Lincoln.

5:36pm: Purchases denatured alcohol, which he uses as fuel for his Coke-can stove, from the B&B. Unlike other establishments which charge $0.25/oz, the proprietor here wants $1 for all the fuel you are willing to carry, knowing that hikers probably won’t overdo it. Indeed, Mothman has capacity for 20oz, but only gets about 8oz to get him to the next place.

5:43pm: Starts walking with Pace, Takereasy, Skittles, Blaze (not the formerly mentioned one, a new Blaze), and Klipspringer to the movie theatre.

6:30pm: Movie starts with very few opening previews. Movies here cost $5, but then so does the popcorn.

8:53pm: Movie ends. Very exciting! The crew starts walking back. Pace splinters off to buy some vitamin I (ibuprofin), the others head to McD’s for dinner. Moth is tired and full.

9:32pm: Arrives back at the B&B. This zero day has featured about five or six miles of road walking, but without a backpack, it feels like nothing. Packs up his pack for the next day’s departure.

9:48pm: Pace, who has moved into Moth’s room after Pace and Billyboy (his previous night’s roommate) leave, returns with his resupply goods from the convenience store. The two read the paper for a while, then fall asleep.

The typical town day involves chores, meals and goofing around. Zero days are never truly empty, but we do manage to enjoy ourselves. Today looks like a 10-15 mile day up on the ridge; the weather isn’t great, but at least it’s not raining today.