In a little more than a week I will be going down to Georgia to begin my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. As I sit here, creating this blog to keep you folks updated on my progress, I am realizing that not everyone is a trail savvy as myself. So as a service to those who might not know much about the trail or my plans, I have come up with a list of “frequently asked questions.” Nobody has asked (most of) these questions yet but these are the questions I imagine readers of this blog might have floating around in their heads. These questions are specific to me and my hike, for general information about thru-hiking, the trail, and its history I invite you to visit the Appalachian Trail Conservancy website.
Short Answer: For fun. Long Answer: For as long as I have been aware of the trail, I have had the desire to complete it. Many day hiking and camping conversations have been dominated by dreams of a thru-hike. I know that for as long as the trail remains unhiked, I will have the desire to hike it. It is an itch that needs scratching. The second part of this is that I believe delaying happiness until retirement is a flawed life approach, and that there really is no better time to start a thru-hike than right now, and that goes for everybody. Besides, what better way is there to spend one’s time than walking in nature? I also needed a break from the education system. I was beginning to become a bit jaded with the whole college song and dance. Spending some time in the woods will put me in a much better place mentally and enhance my college experience. However, when it comes down to it, I am really just doing it for fun. 🙂
Q: What are you doing after your hike?
A: I am currently enrolled at the University of Maine at Farmington for the fall semester. I am double majoring in secondary education mathematics and mathematics. The plan is to summit the big K in mid to late August in time for school to start in early September.
Q: What are you taking with you?
A: A complete breakdown of my gear is available here (I apologize to any mobile users.) Thats it. Yes only one pair of underwear. Note that some of these items will be. shipped home when the weather warms up (it is winter after all) in favor of lighter summer gear. My 15 degree sleeping bag will be traded for a 33 degree summer bag, saving nearly a pound. Also my down jacket will be mailed home saving over a pound. My base weight (pack weight before consumables like water, food, and fuel) is about 19 pounds, a little heavier than I had originally intended, but again this is before switching to lighter summer gear. I plan for my pack weight to be between 30 and 35 pounds throughout my hike (2-3 pounds of food per day plus 3-5 pounds of water and a half pound of fuel). Gear is a hot topic on the trail and I could write a twenty page dissertation dissecting the reasoning behind every gear choice that I have made, but I will spare you those details in this post. If you are interested in gear talk, bring it up next time you see me and we can have a long and thoughtful chat about polypro vs wool, synthetic vs down, tent vs tarp and all of the other wonderful backpacking subjects.
Q: How long will it take?
A: The trail is 2,185ish miles long, and I am taking my first steps on the trail on March 12th. I want to summit Mt. Katahdin no later than August 22nd, which gives me a little time to decompress (or recompress??) before I start school. That leaves me taking 164 days, or five months and two weeks. According to the ATC, the average time for a thru-hiker to complete the trail is just shy of six months, so I think I will have plenty of time.
Q: How many miles a day will you have to hike to reach that goal?
A: The trusty Ti-84 says that, if I hike 154 of my 164 day schedule, I will need to average about 14.2 miles per day. My average mileage is something that I can really only speculate about. For most of my hike I suspect I will be putting in more than that 14.2 mile daily average, and I have no idea whether I will take more or less days off (zero days as they are known on the trail) than I have accounted for.
Q: How much does it cost?
A: This, like the miles-per-day question is another complicated subject. On the ATC website it says that thru hikers can expect to spend about $1000 dollars a month on food, fuel and hostels. Some spend more, others spend less. I budgeted for $1000 dollars a month and have $5000 dollars to spend. I actually saved more money than that so I do have a bit of a cushion, however I would like to get out having only spent about $4500. Only time will tell. As far as gear goes, I estimate that I spent a little over two-thousand dollars. Could I have spent less? Absolutely. Would my pack weigh as little as it does? probably not. I also could have spent more, and perhaps gotten an even lighter setup. Again I don’t really want to go into the subject of gear choices in this post (even though I kinda do), but the next question after “how much does it cost?” is very likely to be “why does it cost so much?” so bear with me (feel free to skip this section).
Choosing gear is a constant balancing act between weight, price, durability, capability, and comfort. I’ll use two examples here really quick to show the process of choosing a piece of gear. I’m bringing with me a 15 degree Western Mountaineering Apache MF down sleeping bag that cost 500 dollars. I could be bringing a synthetic Marmot Trestles 15 degree bag that costs $130 dollars. However, the synthetic bag is almost double the weight of the down bag, and is much larger when packed up (also the Western Mountaineering bag is made in the USA and who can put a price on that?). To me, two pounds and pack space is worth the extra money, not to mention the fact that Western Mountaineering bags can be mailed back and re-lofted with more down as they wear out. If you have looked at my gear report, you can see that I am taking a lot of smartwool products (I actually anticipate switching to Darn Tough hiking socks once it warms up or my first two pairs of socks wear out again, lightening the load). The reason my t-shirt, longsleeves, long underwear, and regular underwear are all smartwool is a simple one: Smell. My t-shirt was fifty bucks, (yo, thats like fifty dollars for a t-shirt…) and that is pretty outrageous when pretty m
uch any non-cotton shirt would have worked fine. However, when it comes to smell, those cheap polyester shirts get funky. Natural fibers are much more odor resistant and in my own experience, can be worn for days at a time in a sweaty environment and accrue very little stench at all. I have worn my smartwool shirt twenty or more track practices in a row without a wash and I could barely detect an odor. Because I am putting myself in an environment where showers are few and far between, and I am a know sweat hog, I figure that the extra money is well worth the added cleanliness of wool. In addition to being naturally odor resistant, wool keeps you warm when wet, so the price is even further justified. Sorry for the wall of text, but I felt the need to justify my expensive purchases and give a little insight to the research that goes into gearing up for a thru-hike.
Q: Have you read A Walk in the…
A: Yes. Yes I have. This really is one of the most frequently asked questions. So frequent that I can answer it before you even finish the sentence. I have read many Appalachian Trail books including the famous A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. For anyone interested in reading about the Appalachian Trail I highly recommend AWOL on the Appalachian Trail by David Miller, Rethinking Life on the Appalachian Trail by Gary Bond, and for any prospective thru-hikers, Appalachian Trials: A Psychological and Emotional Guide to Successfully Thru-Hiking The Appalachian Trail by Zach Davis . That last book has proven more than valuable in my trail preparations and I will go as far to say that it is a must read for anyone who is going to hike the A.T. The Author also has a website that includes information about the book and various other hiker resources. The guide book I am taking is The A.T. Guide by David “AWOL” Miller.
Well There you have it! My first blog post. I may reference this post in future updates and I see it as a bit of foundation and context for the rest of the posts on this blog. This post will probably be edited or added too at some point or another, so check back if you want to learn more.