As I create this page and look at these pictures from 2003, memories just come flooding back. This Appalachian Trail hike, from Georgia to Maine in the eastern mountains of the United States, was my first long distance hike. In fact, before I did the AT, my longest trekking/backpacking trip was four nights out in the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico. Freezing my tuckus off, I might add. One of the things that helped me the most to prepare for this 2,172 mile Appalachian Trail hike was reading about other peoples’ experiences and what they thought made them successful. My goal was to thru hike – complete the trail in one go. Six months or less start to finish.
It wasn’t a spiritual journey. I wasn’t trying to find myself or escape a bad situation. I wasn’t running to or from anything. It is a physical and mental challenge like nothing else in the world. When people ask me why I did it, I tell them I just wanted to know if I could do it. When they ask, “When did you know you could do it?” I say, “When I finished.”
I’m a gear head, I admit it! But there’s a lot more to the AT than gear. The AT is just as mental as it is physical. It covers 14 states and roughly 2200 miles. It is rerouted at times to relieve erosion and I think it is a bit longer than it was when I did it in 2003. Every day is full of obstacles, challenges, and many, many steps.
After a few weeks on the trail, you will likely be in the best physical shape you’ve ever been in, and what may have seemed challenging in the beginning might not seem that way anymore. Memories of running with my pack on up a grassy hill because lightening was getting closer and closer are still vivid in my mind, and I was in the open, just before the shelter. I ran uphill with a 20 pound pack full out as fast I could go. I was in Virginia by this time. There’s no way I could’ve done that in Georgia.
The AT is also a mental challenge. Sometimes, I just didn’t want to do it. I wanted to do something else. Not hike that day. There were times I didn’t want to do laundry in my rain gear with no underwear on. Sometimes I didn’t want to eat Lipton noodles for dinner. I remember a road crossing in Virginia where I sat down in a rare sunny moment to eat a Snickers and after a few minutes, it started to rain. Again. For how many days in a row? I lost count. I asked myself while sitting there, “Why the hell am I doing this again?” Actually, I may have said something stronger than ‘hell’, but anyway. After that day though, I never asked myself that again. Even as I said it out loud, I knew the answer.
I cannot discuss the AT without discussing the people I met along the way. So many different personalities and reasons for hiking this trail. The further north I got, the fewer people I ran into. People drop off or skip ahead to Katahdin and hike south because it gets cold in New Hampshire and Maine. Nearly everyone gets a trail name and some have one before they start. My trail name is Tucson because that’s where I lived at the time and I missed the desert. It. Rained. Every. Day. After day four. The rain started on March 29 and just didn’t stop. 2003 is still the wettest year on record for the AT.
But when I finished walking for the day and got to camp and got set up and ready to cook, my favorite part of the day began. It was like work was finished and now it was time to relax. And laugh. I met so many funny, smart, unique people. Camping at night was always an adventure because we never really knew who would be there, although people formed bonds and hiked together, or in my case, camped together. Just go at your pace, hike your hike, and you will meet amazing people and form bonds that will never break.
When I finally reached Katahdin and kissed the sign, I stood there for a moment alone and tried to figure out what I was feeling. I wasn’t feeling my feet, that’s for sure. They were numb. I finally figured it out. I felt invincible. And it had nothing to do with my physical strength and abilities. The AT is far more mental than physical. But what I felt was invincible and proud and relieved.
Here’s a link to an interactive map of the AT. This .org site is a great reference for all things AT. Some people might disagree with me on this, but I think a guidebook is also a critical piece of gear. You can read my post about guidebooks here Appalachian Trail Guidebooks. Keep it and your camera in a ziploc bag and replace the bag once in a while. In fact, ziplocs themselves are a critical piece of gear.
For information on gear and suggestions, check out my Shop page.