Lots of questions coming in about our big adventure, so I put together a trail FAQ page. It’s long, but very informative. I can always add to it, so if there is something that needs explaining, let us know! Enjoy your education!
What are you doing?We are attempting to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) Southbound (SB). This means we will attempt to hike 2,181 miles from Maine to Georgia in one continuous trip.
Do people really do this?Nearly 2,000 people set out to thru hike the AT every year. About 200 people end their hike within the first 30 miles. Half stop halfway. And about 25-30% complete the entire thru hike. As of November 2010, 11,000 hikers have completed the trail since 1936.
Why?I can remember J mentioning the AT to me on our second date (almost 9 years ago). We were talking about our big dreams in life and he had mentioned the idea of thru hiking the AT. I have to admit, I had no idea what the AT was and what thru hiking meant. I did know at that time that I wanted to do something big like that in my life. We talked about it on and off over the years and seriously considered doing it as our honeymoon after we got married. But, life just got in the way. For the past 3 years, we have had it in our mind that we would make our dream a reality, so we have worked hard to pay off debt and prepare ourselves financially. When I got laid off in 2010, we re-evaluated and realized we could still move forward. The fact that full-time employment was not coming my way anytime soon really sealed the deal. We want to live life and follow our dreams while we can! So here we are, in 2011, ready to conquer the AT.
I guess the other thing to say is that J and I love being outdoors. Most people would never consider doing the AT simply because they can’t stand the idea of sleeping outside for one night, let alone 150 nights. Nor the idea of not showering. Or not watching TV. Etc., etc., etc. On average, Americans only walk 1.3 miles in a week. For us, being in nature is where we are happiest. Here is an opportunity to challenge ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally and grow tremendously, individually and as a couple.
“What a joy it is to feel the soft, springy Earth under my feet once more,to follow grassy roads that lead to ferny brooks where I can bathe my fingers in a cataract of rippling notes,or to clamber over a stone wall into green fields that tumble and roll and climb in riotous gladness!”Helen Keller, 1880-1968
Why Southbound (SoBo)? The trail runs from Georgia to Maine and the majority of people hike Northbound (NB). In 2009, 1,425 set out to hike from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Katahdin, Maine. A total of 708 made it halfway and 367 finished (26%). In contrast, 252 people set out to hike from Katahdin, Maine, to Springer Mountain, Georgia. A total of 124 made it halfway and 56 finished (22%). Clearly, the NB route is more popular. But back in 2005, when we bought and watched a 7-hour documentary “How to hike the Appalachian Trail,” I couldn’t tell why. You can argue both ways. All I know is I really loathed the idea of starting among 1,000 other people. Plus, I always liked being different. And J will go along with just about anything, so it was easy to convince him.
What will you eat?I think the question is what won’t we eat? Food will be the thing we think, talk and dream about the most. We will need to eat between 5,000 to 6,000 calories daily to replenish the calories lost from all the hiking. That is equivalent to 26+ snickers, 2.5 jars of peanut butter and 12 Big Macs. Get in my belly!!!!
Of course, we can only carry certain foods. No steaks. No fresh fruit. Also think lightweight. We will probably carry between 4 and 10 days of food, depending on when we will reach our next resupply town. We will pick up in towns along the way and mail ourselves packages of food supplies (like backpacker meals). I’ve mentioned that we are a big fan of those freeze-dried backpacker meals. So many calories and they weigh 12-15 ounces. In comparison, a single jar of peanut butter, which is another great source of protein and calories, weighs 1 pound.
The backpacker meals will mostly be for dinner every night, with a few ramen thrown in there. There are several varieties, although J can’t eat rice, so we steer clear of those. Breakfast will be a combination of mini bagels (when we come fresh off a resupply), the dreaded and boring oatmeal, and granola/energy bars. Lunch will be peanut butter, tuna, pepperoni, cheese, all with tortillas when we can. And tons of snacks through the day! Some suggested ways to increase calories have been to add precooked bacon, pepperoni, sausage & olive oil to any meals when possible. I guess we’ll see as we go along.
Where will you shower?Running water? What’s that? Hahaha. I think it’s fair to say we’ll probably shower once a week, but it could be more or less, depending of when we get to a town or pass a modern camp.
Where will you, umm, use the bathroom?Dig a hole, drop a load.
There are actually outhouses more than you would think. But it’s best to use those for #2. When using the wilderness, leave no trace principles ask that you pee on a rock and deposit human waste 6 inches deep, and of course away from water sources, camp and trails.
Where will you sleep?The AT has a number of shelters along the route. While they are great, the downfalls to the shelters include mice, crowds from other hikers and a lack of privacy. But some people rely on shelters for their whole journey and that is fine. We will definitely stay in shelters here and there, but will be carrying a 2-person tent. And, we will stay in hostels/hotels occasionally, as well as friends houses along the way.
Are you carrying a gun?NO.#1 It’s too much weight#2 It’s illegal to carry a weapon in national parks (we go through 2 NPs) and some states also have strict regulations.#3 The trail is relatively safe. There have been less than 2 violent crimes every 10 years. Yes, there have been a few murders. And as for bears, if you practice good wilderness safety, you should be okay.
Have you read Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods?” Yes, we both read it years ago … and pretty much hated it. We agree Bill Bryson is a very good writer and offers a comedic look at the AT. But, it bothers us both that he set out to hike and was so unprepared and of course didn’t finish it. There are FAR better AT books out there, in our opinion. If you want to get a glimpse of trail life, read Jeff Alt’s “A Walk for Sunshine,” “Blind Courage” by Bill Irwin, or “Barefoot Sisters: Southbound” or “Barefoot Sisters Walking Home,” by Susan and Lucy Letcher.
Will you keep up the blog?For schnizels! It was my whole purpose in getting an iPhone. I’m a writer by nature, so there’s no way we could go on an adventure like this and not write about it. And I’ve been sharing our whole life with all of you via the blog for the past 3.5 years, so why stop now?!
How can we help you? Beside prayers for our health, safety and sanity, we would love to hear from you! Thanks to the iPhone and towns with public computers, we will have pretty good communication (for being in the wilderness). Whether it’s an occasional voice mail, e-mail message or comment on the blog. Of course, we may not be able to get back to you, or at least not for awhile, but communication will be much appreciated. Remember, we will be spending every waking (and sleeping) moment together for 5-6 months, need I say more … Additionally, you can certainly send us goodies on the trail. Please check the mail drop page for more info on that! But don’t feel obligated to do any of this; occasional thoughts and prayers are enough.
By the way, any help given on the trail is fondly called “trail magic” and the people who administer it “trail angels.”
Hey, I think I live near this AT, do you think we can meet up? Definitely! Remember what I said about having other human contact besides each other?? We go through many towns and we may very well walk right by your house! The caveat is that it will be very difficult to predict when we will be somewhere. Plans could change in a matter of a day. So if you are flexible and want to try to visit us on the trail, follow the blog and get in touch.
We already have lots of people who live near the trail and are planning to meet up and are so excited. This includes our friends in NH, Christine in NY, Janice & kids in CT, Frankie D in NJ, Todd S in NJ, my parents in NJ, Tim & Jen in PA, Pat & Bri on VA state line, Kayt & Chris on VA state line and the Bengtsons in VA/NC. Anyone else?
Who will pay your bills and how can you afford to pay for this?We are taking applications for friends/family who want to pay our bills while we are on the trail … JUST KIDDING! We have it all planned out. The 5-6 months on the trail will actually only cost between $2,000-$6,000 for supplies, lodging, etc. But we have been planning for a long time to build a savings to cover our bills, pay for the trip and still have a nest egg for when we return to reality and are jobless. Although most of our bills are automated, we have elected Mama F to handle anything that comes up.
Overall, we are not worried about our financial recovery post-trail. We are young and we will survive. Maybe the economy will be better, maybe it won’t. The fact of the matter is there will be no social security when we get old and gray, so we will be working until the day we die. Might as well live life to the fullest now!
What will you do with all your stuff? Anyone need anything? We are selling most of our furniture (yes Beth, we are finally getting rid of your couches!) and big items. We are selling our little car, but keeping our SUV. But the rest of our stuff will be stored in various locations, mostly in Danville, VA, where we still own a house. Post-trail plans are still up in the air, but we do know Danville will be our “base camp.”
Don’t you have a cat?We strongly considered the possibility of having Mr. McKinley be the first cat to thru hike the AT, but we couldn’t teach him how to dig a hole to drop his load and with pack in, pack out principles, there’s no way we’re carrying his poop. Instead, my parents have graciously accepted our demand that they adopt him temporarily. He may come back wired on caffeine and 10 lbs heavier, but we know he will be loved and won’t even miss us. We will definitely miss McKinley the most on the trail!
ANY OTHER LINGERING QUESTIONS, PLEASE ASK THEM! THE ONLY STUPID QUESTION IS THE ONE NOT ASKED!