Appalachian Trail FAQ & Links

Green Tunnel from Kevin Gallagher on Vimeo

That video is what roundhouse kicked me over the line I was teetering on. I knew that I wanted to hike on the Appalachian Trail already. I didn’t know that I wanted to do the entire thing until that moment. I know it doesn’t show the lightning storms, endless rain, mosquitoes, ticks, mice, snakes, bears, blisters, etc. but after seeing that video it was all I could think of for weeks. I couldn’t get it off my mind. I knew I would have to at least try and that is exactly what I am going to do … regardless of what Yoda thinks.

FAQ – November 07, 2013

These are the most frequently asked questions I have had so far. If you have a question, please feel free to ask. The more questions people ask, the more I have to think about answers. The more answers I have, the better prepared I’ll be. I’d like to do a big Q & A right before I leave, one during, and one right after.

Q: What is the Appalachian Trail?

A: The AT is a continuously marked footpath along the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern US. It traverses 14 states from the southern terminus at Springer Mountain in Georgia to the northern terminus at Mount Katahdin in Maine.

QHow long will it take?

A: I’m planning on six months. People have done it in much less and far more but this is what I think I, personally, can manage. This includes several zeros (days off without hiking) in towns to rest and recuperate or to wait out really bad weather.

Q: When are you leaving?

A: I have chosen to start in March of 2015. The main reason I’ve chosen March is because my son spends every summer with his dad out-of-state anyway. I wouldn’t get to see him for almost three months, even if I’d stayed home. I’m hoping this helps him. By being gone the same time he is, I’m hoping it only feels like three months to him instead of six.

QNOBO (northbound) or SOBO (southbound)?

A: Because of my spring departure, I’ll be a northbounder. I’ll start in Georgia and head north to Maine. If I chose southbound I wouldn’t be able to leave until June or July. Baxter State Park in Maine suggests climbing Mount Katahdin May 31st to October 15th due to the weather and to preserve alpine areas. There is no camping in BSP after October 15th and the decision to close Katahdin itself is decided on a day-to-day basis depending on winter weather conditions. Honestly, I’d rather go southbound. Fewer thru-hikers go that way and I’d love the solitude. Unfortunately, that would mean I wouldn’t be able to leave until June or July, ruining my previously stated master plan of psychologically tricking my kid into not missing me so much … so NOBO it is!

Q: Are you going by yourself?

A: Yes… and no. The beginning of my hike will also be the beginning of a LOT of other people’s hikes. In the south, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, approximately 1500 start out each year, most within a six-week period. They estimate about 30 or more people start a day in Georgia. I will be in the company of strangers for a good long while. I’ve also had a few people offer to go all or part of the way with me but I know a lot can change between now and then so nothing is definite at the moment. I’m hoping to have a familiar face or two if I’m very very lucky. (I’m talking to you, Mr. Perigard!) However, I am fully prepared to go it alone.

Q: How far is it?

A: Apparently, the answer depends on who you ask. It looks like the general answer is over 2,000 miles. The AT’s distance changes yearly due to reroutes for various reasons. I have sweet plans for a “2,000-something” bumper sticker for my car similar to marathon runners that have stickers that just read “26.2” or “13.1” … the “my kid beat up your honor student” equivalent, if you will. :) Update 12-02-14: The official distance for 2015 is 2189.2 miles. 

Fun Fact: The total elevation gain of hiking the entire A.T. is equivalent to climbing Mt. Everest 16 times. SIXTEEN.

Q: Where will you sleep?

A: I have yet to decide between a tent or a hammock but I will definitely be bringing something. My other options are shelters/huts/lean-tos that are spaced out periodically along the trail and hostels or hotels in towns. Update 12-02-14: I went with a tent over a hammock. My new home is the LightHeart Gear Solo. 

Q: Do you have to carry all your food?

A: Yes, but for the most part I can resupply in town every 3-5 days or pick up packages from the post office so I don’t necessarily have to carry tons of food. Maine’s 100-Mile Wilderness is kind of freaking me out now but hopefully by the time I get there I’ll be a little more confidant in my planning skills. I will need to carry at least a week’s worth of food for that part.

Q: How do you train for something like that?

A: I don’t think you can. I’ve started by losing some weight. Twenty pounds so far and twenty more to go. That will put me at a healthy weight that if I gain OR lose some weight on the trail I will still be fairly fit. I plan on doing several trips to the mountains and canyons after I quit my job because the elevation change is going to be rough on this Houstonian. I’d also like to do some camping in the snow. I’ve camped in the cold but never camped or hiked in the snow before. In fact, I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve even seen snow. The biggest thing besides the elevation is hiking with a pack long distance. Hello, Lone Star Trail, you will be my guinea pig.

Q: Will you be okay without cats?

A: ……


These are links that I have found useful so far. I’m still learning and researching everything I can find so I’ll add to this list periodically. Is there anything you recommend I take a look at? – AT hiker community with excellent forums. The best part is getting multiple viewpoints from different people who have AT experience.

Trail Journals – Temporarily living vicariously through others.

Appalachian Trail Conservancy – A national not-for-profit corporation that preserves and manages the trail.

GearGrams – This is a life saver. Or back saver. There is absolutely no reason to reinvent the wheel when it comes to keeping track of your gear lists and how much everything weighs.

Appalachian Trials – Great book on the psychological aspects of long distance hiking but there is also some good blogging going on over there. – AT current events and news.

AT on Wikipedia – General info and stats.

Appalachian Trail Distance Calculator – Calculate the distance between two points on the trail based on the current Appalachian Trail Data Book.

Appalachian Trail Database – Waypoints and info for shelters, post offices, hostels, etc.

National Park Service – It is, after all, a national scenic trail.

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