To hike, put one foot in front of the other, propelling yourself forward at a steady, workmanlike pace. After repeating this action thousands of times, you will theoretically begin to experience "fun". -The Onion
It was a year ago this month I started my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Funny thing about that night on top of Springer Mountain was that at the time I had no goal of completing the trail in one shot. My story is a bit unusual but that doesn't matter right now. In the end I completed the entire trail and experienced something very few people ever will. So this post will be to help anyone who is thinking about a thru-hike and to offer some advice to make the most out of your time on trail.
Ok number one, YOU CAN DO IT!! I don't care what shape you're in, how old you are, what tent you use or how you treat your water. The only thing that will get you to Katahdin is what is between those ears of yours. The most important piece of gear you carry with you is your mental attitude. So many factors you deal with on the trail are completely out of your control. The weather, trail conditions, but only YOU have control over your attitude. On my hike I can honestly say that I enjoyed every single day I was out there. Rain, the heat, hiker hunger, and pain were all hiccups in the grand scheme of things. The people I surrounded myself with were all like minded individuals and we had a blast every single day we were hiking together. Just remember, a bad day on trail is still better than going to work and leading a boring 9-5 life.
Hike Your Own Hike- Ok you're gonna hear it a million times and probably already have. But think about it and live it. You are hiking for whatever personal reason and you should make it the best experience for yourself that you can. Take zero days, do 30 mile days, blue blaze, eat at every buffet you can find, sleep until 10am, in the end you will realize that if you were having fun all of the time you made the right choices. And feel free to ignore anyone judging you and your style of hiking or saying you aren't a "real" thru-hiker. You will run into purists and naysayers alike, but it's best to ignore negativity. You will know in the end if you were a "real" thru-hiker or not when you see your last white blaze.
"Appalachian Trials". The information is honest and worth it's weight in snickers bars in retrospect. In fact after you finish that, read it again and read as much as you can about the trail. Be it online or in print. It will only fuel your fire to complete the trail and motivate you. Some good ones are "Becoming Odyssa"by Jennifer Pharr Davis, "Hike Your Own Hike" by Francis Tapon. There are many more but these are good ones to start with.
1. Hike as much as you can before you go. But there's no need to "train". All your training will come on trail. There is no way to physically prepare to carry your life on your back for 6 months. It will come, get your head right and your body will follow.
2. Take pictures of the PEOPLE you encounter, not just the places. Yes those sunset pictures are beautiful, and one just may land on the cover of National Geographic. But they all run together after awhile. But that trail angel who picked you up and gave you a bag of M&M's on the way to town will bring back happy thoughts when you look back on them.
|Banjo and I signed in #431 & #432 at Katahdin Stream Campground|
|Trail magic somewhere in Massachusetts|
|Mark and Monica took us in and treated us like family. It's kindness like this that keeps you going.|
|Applehouse Donuts in Linden, Virginia. Just go, trust me.|
In review, keep a positive mental attitude, have fun, hike your won hike and ENJOY IT!!! Oh and a little bit of luck helps while you're out there.
Lagniappe- So a few extra pointers, you should defenitely join the Appalachian Trail Conservancy the year you plan on hiking. It may be (monetarily) the very least you can do to support the trail. The ATC and the trail for that matter is probably the greatest volunteer based project in the history of history. That does not mean that the paperwork loaded world we live in does not apply to the AT as well. Land owners need to be contacted, trail crews assembled and supplied, and conservation efforts need to be voiced and spread in a professional format. Think of it as paying your utility bill while you're on the trail.
Please for goodness sake buy AWOL's guide not only for the direction you are headed (northbound or southbound) but the most current edition as well. Hostels close, trails are redirected and restaurants shut down. You don't want to get to that pizza joint you've been drooling over in your mind, only to realize it closed a year ago. The information in his books is about 98% accurate and an invaluable tool for you along the trail. It's your bible for the next 6 months, make sure it's safe. I would buy the unbound edition and carry only what you need for the next few days, the rest of the guide can stay tucked away or large chunks of it can be bounced ahead. Trust me on this one, everyone who doesn't start with this guide, has one by the end.
The friends I made along the trail will be life long friends. Trade facebook info, phone numbers, emails, whatever. Now this is where I should take some of my own advice but keep in contact with them! It's hard for me to stay in contact with even my closest of friends but I can try to improve. Banjo, 2/3, Peter Pan, Xango how's it going guys!!??!?!
All this advice and no talk of gear? Strange coming from a bipolar gear junkie huh? I'm just not gonna approach that subject here. I've talked about it before and there are thousands of other posts about his topic. Do your research and make your own choices. Just make sure you use all of your gear before you go and know how it all works. A rain storm is 100% unforgiving when it comes to knowledge of your gear and how to use it properly.