Dear Hikers, Non-Hikers, Pals, Strangers, Faces of the Book, Mom, and anyone else who found their way to this post,
I’ve received a couple of questions about my upcoming hike, and thought it would be beneficial to make a quick “Frequently Asked Questions” post. I’ll do my best to keep answers concise, but I will disclose that I tend to talk – er… type – a lot when I’m excited!
*Note: the title of this post was not a FAQ…but after scrutinizing my gear, a dear friend asked me, “where will you put your blanket and pillow?” and I had to include it.
*Double Note: I will unfortunately not be bringing a pillow or a blanket.
What is the Appalachian Trail?
The Appalachian Trail, or AT, is a footpath that stretches between Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. The exact mileage fluctuates every year, but it’s roughly about 2,181 miles and transverses 14 states and 5 national parks. People that aim to hike the entire trail are called “thru-hikers,” and either start in Georgia and head North (most common- what Nicole and I are doing), start in Maine and head South, or start at a middle point amongst the trail and “flip-flop.”
How long does it take you?
It takes roughly between 5 to 7 months (on average). Some people take shorter, some people take longer. Only about 20% of people that set out to hike the entire trail actually finish it. I’m starting on April 3rd and planning to take a few weeks off in July for a wedding and some other events; we are hoping to be done by late September/Early October.
What do you eat?
Pretty much anything, as long as it has a decent “shelf-life” and doesn’t weigh a ton. For example, apples may seem like a great option, except they’re heavy, and every little ounce matters when you’re carrying everything on your back. One of the cool things about the AT is that you have the opportunity to go into town quite often to resupply, though it may only be at a gas station. Typically I’ll only have to carry 4-6 days worth of food, but of course this will vary depending on where I am. I’ll be eating a lot of oatmeal, jerky, nuts, dried fruit, ramen, tuna, rice and noodle dishes, instant breakfast, instant coffee, protein bars, etc… I have a small, light stove with me. I hear that once you do get into town, you have an insatiable appetite for pizza, burgers, ice cream and all other horribly delicious things. Apparently, you get pretty innovative with ingredients when you’re on the trail. I recently heard about one guy taking peanut butter, Nutella, fluff, two snicker bars and two butter fingers, and rolling them in a tortilla as dinner for many nights on the trail. I guess I can’t yet predict what my “hiker hunger” will guide me to consume.
Where will you go to the bathroom?
Wherever nature calls. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy asks that you do your business in a “cat-hole” at least 200 feet away from water sources and shelters, and well away from the trail. This may sound crazy to you, but there are actually privies (outhouses) scattered along the trail at some shelters, so I guess that’s always an option. Not sure yet how this is going to go.
What wildlife hazards are there?
I’ll most-likely see a handful of black bears, though probably (hopefully) the tail-end of them running away (they are typically known as big, skittish babies). There are snakes, too. Lightning, snow/rain, fording rivers. But actually, the biggest threat are deer ticks that could potentially be carrying Lyme Disease. Oh, and I hear mice chewing your gear in shelters can be a real pain, too.
Are you going alone?
I’m so lucky that my best friend, Nicole, is also doing the trail. It’s been a dream of ours for years now, and we did a section of the 100 Mile Wilderness in Maine back in 2012 with our brothers. Thousands of people attempt the hike, and it’s pretty inevitable that we fall in with a group of hikers. Part of me feels like the first day at a new school, anxious about making friends! Kidding…. Kind of.
Where do you sleep?
I have a one-person tent that I will be in the majority of the time. It’s my new home-away-from-home, and depending on your level of claustrophobia, is quite cozy. Another thing that a lot of people don’t know about the trail is that there’s a shelter/lean-to about every 8-12 miles on the trail. That’s always an option, though they tend to be very crowded for the first section of the trail, and there’s certain complications. Like mice. And people snoring.
There are also hiker hostels in many of the towns along the trail, where for a reasonable price we will be able to eat, wash our clothes, and hopefully sleep in a “real” bed, though probably in a bunk room with other hikers. I’ve even heard that splurging on a Motel 6 can be in the cards every now and then, if you’re into that.
How much does your pack weigh?
With all my gear, food, and water, about 28 pounds. That’s not horrible. It’s not great, either. There are people that manage to get it down to around 14 pounds. I assume by witchcraft of some sort. Others go in with packs over 40 or 50 pounds. Some even more than that.
What about water?
The AT gods have made water very accessible along the trail. I have a Sawyer water filter packed, in which I’ll fill up a pouch with the “dirty” water (from a stream, river, or other source of moving water), and filter it through to become drinkable.
That about sums it up for the most common questions I’ve received. If I missed anything, please don’t hesitate to leave it in a comment or message. There’s no such thing as a silly question (see, Cydney, I told you!)
Happy reading and happy hiking, my friends!