While I’m taking a few zeros in Norfolk, Virginia I thought I’d write a post or two about things that you might be interested in about the Appalachian Trail…other than my daily hikes. I hope you’ll find this post interesting. If there are other things you want to know about life on the trail, let me know, and I’ll write about them.
Two necessities of life are a place to sleep and a place to go to the bathroom. On the AT you can sleep just about anywhere that you can put up a tent or lay down a sleeping bag. However, for many it is preferable to sleep in what we call a ‘shelter’, which is a simple wooden or stone structure generally with three walls, a roof and a floor. Here’s a photo of a small, very rustic, shelter in North Carolina…
That’s Pig Pen in the shelter during a lunch break. He’s reading the register, a simple notebook that is kept in each shelter for hikers to write words of wisdom, greetings to other hikers, or to pass on information about something related to the trail. For instance, a hiker might write that a certain spring that is listed in the guidebook is dry so that other hikers will know not to plan to get water there.
Personally I do not like to sleep in shelters because I am a very light sleeper and if another hiker in the shelter is snoring, talking in their sleep or otherwise making noise, I will not be able to get a good night’s sleep. I have hiked over 700 miles of the trail at this point and I have only slept in shelters three times – once during an ice storm when I was afraid a limb would fall on me if I slept in my tent and twice in the Smokey Mountains where you are required to sleep in a shelter unless it is full, then you can sleep in your tent or out under the stars (called ‘cowboy camping’.
Most hikers don’t mind sleeping in shelters and some actually prefer it because then they don’t have to set up and take down their tent each day. But I have met plenty of other hikers who are like me and prefer the quiet and privacy of their own tent. Also, back when the Norovirus was going around, the recommendation was not to sleep in the shelters to help try to avoid the virus. (It didn’t help me any.)
The shelters are very important, though, especially during severe weather and I am sure that many a life has been spared by the safe refuge provided by shelters along the trail.
The second necessity is a place to go to the bathroom. Yes, you can just go in the woods and for me that is often preferable. I won’t go into the details in this post of how that’s done but I will say that it is much easier than you would think and if you’re planning to go backpacking, don’t worry…it happens very naturally. Just be sure to have some toilet paper handy and don’t fall backwards.
For those who don’t want to go the full back-to-nature route there is the option of using a privy, which is basically a composting toilet along with some kind of structure that gives a certain degree of privacy. Here’s a photo of a privy in Virginia…
As you can see it’s just a simple toilet on top of a wooden structure. The red bucket contains leaves that you throw into the toilet when you are finished and the space to the left of the toilet is filled with leaves and other organic material. I honestly don’t know why it’s there. Maybe a reader can explain that for me. What you can’t see in the photo is that on the right side of the structure is a wooden wall that blocks the view from the trail so that someone who is using the toilet cannot be seen as a hiker passes by. Most privvies have a roof to protect the user when it is raining but this one does not – so bring your umbrella! 🙂
Almost every shelter has a privy located within a few hundred feet and they are located at varying distances along the trail, sometimes just a few miles apart but never more than a person can hike during the day. Every hiker carries their own supply of toilet paper and it is also very important to carry hand sanitizer and to use it frequently throughout the day, not just after going to the bathroom.
So that’s about all I can think of to write about ‘Shelters ad Privvies’. If you have questions, just ask it in a comment and I’ll do my best to give you a good answer.