Now that my plans to try to backpack the entire length of the Appalachian Trail have become more widely known, I get a lot of questions. Some ask if the trail is “mostly flat.” Some wonder about telecommunications. It’s fun to respond to any inquiries, but there clearly are a number of very common questions on my friends’ and colleagues’ minds.
Here are the 5 most popular:
- “Are you going alone?”
Yes. I’m going alone – in the sense that I do not have a friend who plans to start with me and hike the trail with me to Katahdin. I usually ask people inquiring to speculate with me about who might be going with me by asking, “how many of my friends have five months off and if they did, who would pick to walk with a heavy pack on their back up and down hills, sleeping on the ground and going without a shower for 4 or 5 days?
But I do not expect to be alone. Even though I’m leaving a little earlier than most, I anticipate that somewhere around 20 people will start the same day as I do – so I will not be alone. I expect to make friends and hiking companions every day. Some I may hike with for a couple of days or even a couple of months – whatever feels right in terms of hiking speed and compatibility. Moreover, I plan to spend most nights in established shelter areas where there will likely be 10 to 20 (if not 30) hikers each night in the early weeks – most of who will gather and socialize around the shelter/picnic table/fire ring. I wont be lonely (but I will seek solitude, often).
- “Are you taking a gun?”
No, I am not taking a gun. They are too heavy, I’m not experienced in using one and they are not needed. Some disagree about the need. Few would dispute the “weight penalty,” but all hikers typically have one or two items that are “too heavy” – everyone needs to “hike their own hike.” I am likely taking an item or two that are “too heavy,” but I think they will be important for my enjoyment and potentially my ability to succeed.
So am I wrong? Are there dangers that might justify the need for a gun. The usual response is – bears! While they need respect, if you follow some simple principles bears are harmless – “they are just big raccoons.” More about bears in another post. If there’s any real need for a gun on the trail it is to deal with a different animal – humans – actually, unsavory individuals. While there have been a few murders and other bad behavior on the AT, the common truism is that you are much more likely to be killed driving to the trailhead than on the Trail.
For me, keeping a spider sense for those few troublesome individuals and avoiding the situation is the best protection. Keeping in mind that one has everything they need on their back, I can just walk away from any questionable circumstance and plant my tent a few miles down the Trail and just avoid any potentially difficult situations.
- “Where are you going to sleep?”
In a tent, on the ground. There are almost 300 shelters or “huts” (or “lean-tos”) along the Appalachian Trail, which are maintained by volunteer trail maintenance clubs in conjunction with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (the beneficiary of my fundraising efforts related to my hike). Typically they are basic (rustic) with a wooden floor and three sides with one side open to the elements. They can be crowded. They can be dirty. And, they are typically overrun by mice.
I do not plan on staying in many shelters, but I do plan to tent nearby many of these shelters because typically there is a water source, a privy, people and a place to socialize (a picnic table and/or fire ring). I will be required likely to use the shelters while hiking through the Great Smokey National Park (park regulation). And on some particularly nasty weather days, when there’s reasonable room, I may stay in a shelter.
When I reach a town for resupply I will likely stay overnight at a hostel, bed & breakfast or motel, which will permit me to get a shower, do laundry, etc. And, if my experience is like most thru-hikers, a few times there will be a “trail angel” or two that actually takes me back to their home for a meal, a shower and some R & R.
- “What will you eat? How will you get food?”
Mostly squirrels and mice. OK, I thought that would be funny (and I have responded that way to some people just to get a reaction). I will take as much dehydrated food as possible (obviously for the weight savings). This will consist of oatmeal and grits and dehydrated meals (like Trailtopia, the sponsor of my podcast. A general rule of thumb is to keep each day’s food to no more 2 pounds in total. So a 5-day resupply would add 10 pounds to my pack, without adding water. A typical day would be something like the following:
- Breakfast: coffee/hot chocolate; granola bar; and two packages of oatmeal.
- Lunch: graze most of the day on peanuts and raisins, energy bars, but stop for a tortilla rollup of protein (tuna or peanut butter or salami/cheese) and some M&Ms or Snickers
- Dinner: Trailtopia’s “Chicken Cashew Curry” or “Chili Mac with Beef” (“serves 2” but only one on the AT) with coffee and a cookie/bar for dessert.
- “How long will it take? How far will you walk each day?”
I think it will take approximately five (5) months or about 150 days. I have one plan that get me to the top of Katahdin on my birthday – July 15, which would be a trip length of about 4 and ½ months. But it might take six months. I plan to start slow: 10 to 12 miles a day for two or three weeks. I think I can pick up the pace when I get to Virginia and have a number of 20-mile days. I plan to take one “zero day” (a day with no hiking; so a “rest” day) every ten days. If I need more to rest or recovery, I’ll probably do that. I think I can do 15 to 20 miles a day through most of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont with some exceptions such southern NY and dealing with the rocks in PA. When I get to the White Mountains of New Hampshire I will likely be very happy with 10-mile days as I will be in a number of parts of Maine.
MORE QUESTIONS ???
If you have other questions about my hike or the Appalachian Trail, please leave them below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
And, please do not forget our podcast:
Returning To Katahdin: An Appalachian Trail Dream