I have no idea how I was able to keep this up so thoroughly, but for the first 600 miles of the Appalachian Trail in 2011 I took a page out of my girlfriend Kristin's book and noted and categorized every single expenditure of my hike. I aborted this practice abruptly after Bland, VA, which was about six weeks into proceedings--most of the novelty of trail life had worn off by then and I had gotten too lazy to keep writing entries like "pizza & Dew - $17" or "moonshine - $9.27 + one day of blindness" over and over again. The tallies after six-plus weeks were as follows:
Prepared food (i.e. town food): $436
Alcohol, separate from that ordered with meals: $163
Misc. (laundry, tips, ATM fees, etc.): $81.50
This goes to show just how ridiculous the cravings for food and drink in town can be. Keep in mind that I chose restaurants and food options modestly, and everything is super-cheap in the South--the ledger is full of $5-15 meals and purchases, nothing crazy (except one trip to the brewpub in Gatlinburg, but that's another story). It does include three and a half days of Trail Days in Damascus, Va., which set me back about $100 in meals and $50 in beer. Unlike most of the attendees, I wasn't even day-drinking or doing drugs ... lame, I know. I was, however, relying on restaurants for every single meal, as I did, and as most hikers do, in every town. It turns out this adds up quickly.
The message boards that I read often feature people saying, "I don't plan on eating or drinking much in town on my thru-hike; what should I budget for?" Sweet, sweet baby Jesus are these people wrong--and usually there are a lot of other people around to politely tell them as much. Unless they are on a tight budget and very experienced at handling one, or they are in that minority of people who really are genuinely uncomfortable in any town or city, they'll be stuffing their faces at restaurants whenever they get the chance. Burning 4,000 calories a day will do that to a man.
And speaking of calories, I was also keeping track of total ounces of peanut butter and Nutella consumed, as well as total number of chocolate bars. I briefly tracked my Little Debbie fudge round/oatmeal creme pie consumption as well, but after a few tries I found these packed too heavy and bulky for my liking. I kept these statistics almost a month past the previous ones, up until Luray (pron. LOO-ray), Va., 930 miles and two and a half months in, at which point I stopped for a weeklong break to see Kristin and my family in Virginia Beach. When I started back up again, the stats-keeping impulses had been left somewhere behind. The results:
Peanut butter: 217 oz, or 13 jars.
Nutella: 93.1 oz, or 7 jars.
Chocolate bars: 85.
The peanut butter was almost always Skippy or Skippy Natural because Cooks Illustrated says it's the best brand and they're never wrong. Also I was told at several points that Skippy is the de facto peanut butter of thru-hikers everywhere and no one knows why (it can't be that we're all reading the same issues of Cooks Illustrated ... can it?). Anyway, this was about halfway through the mileage that I ended up completing, although I didn't know that at the time. Properly mortified by these statistics and their implications for my arteries, I tailed off ever so slightly from the junk foods as I went further north, although I never came close to giving up PB and Nutella altogether. Put together in a spoon at a 2:1 ratio, they absolutely give the strongest, best-sustained boost of any trail food I've tried so far. On the PCT this year, I want to say I won't be relying on them as heavily as on the AT, because my breakfasts and dinners will be quite a bit better (see previous posts for details), but it's really hard to know in advance how one's body will start to react after a few weeks of 20-mile days.
A final note: I wrote this whole entry on my phone--no internet access because I'm in the process of moving--so if it goes through and actually ends up on my blog, I will be pretty happy about my chances for updating successfully along the PCT.