There are a lot of questions that come up when I tell people what I’m planning, so here are some FAQs and responses:
Q: How far is it? Where is it? Will there be a lot of snow? The trail itself was 2,184 miles in 2012. Due to changes in the trail each year, the mileage is slightly different each year. The AT runs from Georgia to Maine. I’m starting in Georgia in late-March and hoping for warmer temperatures. However, it wouldn’t be surprising to encounter some snow in the mountains, especially the Smokies.
Q: Are you going with a group? No, I’m going solo. There will be a lot of other folks out there and I’ll most likely find some fellow smelly hikers to join. I’ve already met a lot of March-April hikers on Whiteblaze/Facebook, so I’m feeling a lot less nervous. The AT draws all ages, both genders, and all beliefs. But we’re all drawn to the AT with this crazy yearning to hike 2000+ miles. It brings us together.
Q: Are you bringing a gun? What are you doing for protection? What about bears? No!! I’m not taking a gun. I’ve hiked in Glacier, Yellowstone, Yosemite, etc, and feel very safe in the woods. Avoid sneaking up on bears and don’t start running if you do encounter one. The Black Bears I’ve seen in the wild (5+) just stare at you and walk off slowly. Black bears are basically giant raccoons of the woods, and I’m more worried about them trying to steal my food at night. I’m not super-worried about my fellow human beings either. People on the AT tend to be gentle hippies and it’s a very safe place. I plan to find a safe group and trust my gut instinct and get away from people who give me creepy vibes.
Q: Where will you stay? Camping every night? I plan to mostly sleep in my hammock (includes: hammock/bug netting/tarp), but I’ll also stay in hostels, and rarely, hotels. I just camped in 30 degree weather in my hammock and sleeping bag combo and was perfectly happy. Also, the AT has 3-sided shelters every 10-15 miles, if I need better protection from the elements.
Q: How many people do it? In 2012, 2500 people registered at Springer Mountain in Georgia with the intention of finishing the whole hike. 1017 made it half-way to Harper’s Ferry and 322 finished the whole hike. You can get more stats if you’re curious here: http://www.appalachiantrail.org/about-the-trail/2000-milers
Q: Are you quitting your job? Yes– but I was planning on moving away from Chicago in Summer 2013 anyway.. so it was a perfect time for a 5 month “vacation”.
Q. What will you eat? The trail goes through or close to towns approximately every 4-5 days. I’ll resupply in towns with calorie-dense foods like oatmeal, poptarts, tuna, rice, pasta, bagels, peanut butter, snickers, gorp, beef jerky, etc. I plan on cold breakfast and lunch and using my stove for dinner. I find that a warm meal on a difficult day makes everything worth it. Of course, time in trail towns will be spent eating fruits and veggies (I’m going to miss them!! But they are just too calorie poor and heavy).
Q: How much will your pack weigh? Should be about 20 lbs fully loaded. 15 lbs base-weight (meaning without food/water/fuel).
Q: Have you been training? Sorta. I don’t own a car in Chicago, so I walk everywhere– to work, the grocery store, etc. I enjoy hiking and biking and will be planning a more organized meditation/exercise routine for the winter.
Q: What made you want to do this? Has this been some life-long dream? I need some adventure, and I don’t want to wait until my retirement to really travel and enjoy life. I was introduced to the AT thru-hike concept 2 years ago, and it’s been a dream ever since. I spent 6 days backcountry hiking/camping in Glacier National Park this summer, and it was the best week of my life… but it wasn’t really -enough-.. I wanted a ridiculously epic adventure to tell my grandkids about someday 🙂 Futhermore, I’m turning 30 in a few years, and will soon find myself with a mortgage, babies, etc, and my AT dream will be impossible. For me, it’s now or never.
Q: Do you really expect to make it the whole way? Of course, I’m obviously going with the goal of doing the whole thing. But a lot can happen in 5 months. I try to avoid obsessing about Maine and try to concentrate my energy on 5-day sections instead. Baby steps will get you there. But a 6 year old has completed the hike. A 12 year old girl just hiked in 2012. A blind man has hiked it. 80 year olds have hiked it. (You get the point). It is “just walking”… but it’s so much more than that too. I’m honestly more scared about the psychological part of the trail more than anything else. It’s a roller-coaster.
Q: How much will it cost? The average thru-hiker spends ~$3000 over the course of their 5-6 month hike. The money is spent on food, staying in hostels, food, gear, food and buffets.
Q: What section are you the most excited about hiking? The 100 Mile Wilderness, Maine!