Lessons Learned on the AT

The week after Christmas last year, I went on my first backpacking trip with my brother and friends. We hiked a section of the Appalacian Trail (AT) in The Great Smokey Mountain National Park. This year, we are returning to backpack another segment of the AT in the Smokeys the week after Christmas.

I learned a lot last year before I stepped foot on the mountains. My brother has been backpacking for years, and our hours of conversations provided me with plenty of tips for the hike:

  • Pack as light as you can
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Go at a comfortable pace
  • Layer your clothes (no bulky coats)
  • Practice making fire

Even though I avoided many mistakes thanks to talking to my brother ahead of time, I still made a few mistakes on the trail. Here are some lessons I learned from last year's hike:

  • Get a backpack that fits you well. A friend was kind enough to let me borrow an extra backpack he wasn’t using. It seemed to fit well when I tried it on. However, I realized that it didn’t fit properly once I was on the trail. Having a better fitting backpack could have prevented a lot of my misery on the trail. I bought a new backpack this year, and made sure to weigh it down at the store and walk around for an hour to make sure it fit just right.
  • Get a warm sleeping bag. I bought a 25-degree synthetic sleeping bag last year. Synthetic bags were a lot less expensive than down versions. Unfortunately, when the temperature got down to the lower 20s at night (as we were expecting), I was miserably cold. Even with a 15-degree sleeping bag liner, I couldn’t warm up. This year, I’m taking a 0-degree down sleeping bag and packing my 15-degree liner just to be safe.
  • Get good-fitting hiking boots. I bought a pair of hiking boots last year before the trip. I made sure to break them in before the hike, wearing them every day for a month and a half. They were comfortable – until I got to the mountains! What I didn’t know was that walking down inclines would jam my toes to the front of my boots. I came back with several blackened toenails that would take months to heal. It took me several months this summer to find a pair of boots that fit me better.

We all make mistakes. The important thing is to learn from them. I have corrected the mistakes I made on my hike last year. Will I make more mistakes this year? Maybe, but I won’t make the same mistake twice!

As aircraft mechanics, we will all make mistakes. It is imperative that we learn from our mistakes and from the mistakes of others. Managers need to help mentor young mechanics to help them reduce the risk of making mistakes. Although there is no room for blatant disregard of written policies and procedures, there needs to be room to account for mistakes. If we have safety nets in place like having someone look over our work, we can help avoid having mistakes turn into incidents or accidents.

Thanks for reading!

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