~ A.T. FAQ ~
Are you serious?
Why would you want to do that?
Because I can.
Those are the two questions that I am most commonly asked so I figured I would get them out of the way as soon as possible. The rest of the questions are a little more serious, or may have answers that are not obvious to someone who doesnít enjoy hiking and backpacking. Either way, I have been asked all of them at least once since I announced my intentions to stop working and walk for 5 months. I will do my best to answer them as appropriately as possible and hope that I do not offend you.
How long will it take?
That depends on the hiker but the average is anywhere from 4-7 months. I am hoping to complete it in about 5, give or take a week. Fun facts: there are approximately 165,000 blazes and it takes roughly 5 million steps to go from one terminus to the other!
Are you going to walk the whole way?
Thatís the general idea. Thru-driving
seemed too risky, especially on some of the trails in the
What is a blaze?
A blaze is what marks the trail. They are 2Ēx6Ē white strips painted onto trees, rocks, et cetera that indicate which way you are to travel. At trail junctions and crossings, you will find two blazes, indicating which direction you need to take. Other colored blazes (i.e. blue) indicate side trails or trails to shelters/water sources.
What will you eat?
thru-hikers. Oh come
on, Iím kidding! (I was recently advised that thru-hikers are scrawny and chewy
and that Iíd be better off sticking to a steady diet of day hikers since they
are generally meatier). Truthfully, Iíll be eating whatever I can get my hands
on. Most of a thru-hikers diet consists of rice and pasta based dishes because
they are easy to prepare, high in carbs, and
relatively inexpensive. Iím not much of a backcountry gourmet so I plan on
eating whatever just needs hot water added to it.
How do you get your food?
One of two ways, for the most part. I plan on doing most of my food shopping in trail towns, every 5-7 days. This seems a better option for me so I can buy what I am craving and be a bit more flexible. The second option is to have pre-packaged mail drops sent to a town you will be stopping in. I plan on having 4-5 maildrops throughout my time on the trail. Many hikers have more, I think Iíve read about those with up to 20 maildrops. I just donít want to be that reliant on post office hours.
How long does it take to plan?
For me? Apparently 25 years!!! Actually, Iíve been serious about doing it since April 2005. It takes however much time you have I think. Some people plan for years, others for a couple of weeks, and Iím sure there are some that donít plan one iota. They just hike. It is mostly about what your comfort level is.
Who hikes the A.T.?
Anyone that wants to, really. There are people of all ages, shapes and sizes out there on the trail. If I had to guess, I would say the majority of the people out there are in their early 20ís. However, there are a lot of middle-aged folks and retired ones that have been dreaming about this for a long time. Itís a physical challenge, but itís just as much a mental one. I read a trail journal the other day of a guy who stopped hiking because he didnít realize how hard it was going to be for him to be away from his family. Itís a commitment that takes a lot of strength in more ways than one.
Where do you sleep?
Wherever I want. I am bringing a one-person tent (Sierra Designs Mach 1, to be precise) and plan on spending many a night in that. Otherwise, there are shelters and lean-toís scattered along the A.T. every 5-15 miles, Iíd say. They are mostly three-sided shelters that can sleep from 8-12 people and are generally located near a good water source. Shelters are first come, first serve so if you get there and thereís no room, hope you have another option! In addition, there are hostels in many of the trail towns where hikers can stay for a minimal fee (probably $10-$15 per night). I hope to spend the vast majority of my nights in my tent, preferably with a great view to wake up to.
What about, um, going to the bathroom?
I hold it for 5 months. Most shelters and
lean-toís that are on the trail have a privy/outhouse for use. Some are quite
nice, like the Cloudland Privy at Thistle Hill Shelter in
What is a ďtrail nameĒ?
A trail name is a nickname that is given
to one while they are hiking. Usually the name will come from something dumb
you do, say or wear. Typically, you do not choose your own name, your name
chooses you. For example, there was a girl thru-hiking a couple of years ago
that almost set the shelter on fire with her gas stove. Hence, she was known as
Scorch from that point forward. The nice thing about trail names is that you
could meet ten ď
Are you going alone?
When I first planned on doing this, yes, I was planning on going solo. However, things have changed and I am now going to be accompanied by my boyfriend. He has wanted to hike the A.T. for a long time as well and I guess my excitement rubbed off on him and heís decided to come along. We are both carrying our own gear, meaning we will be self-sufficient. We are not sharing tents or any other gear because the reality is, there may be days when we donít see each other. Actually, the reality is, he hikes at roughly mach 5 and I donít.
What if it rains or snows?
Iíll quit and go home. I placed my ďno precipitationĒ order months ago so I expect Mother Nature will comply. Hey, itís part of the hike. Iíve got cold weather gear and rain gear. Unfortunately, there will be days we will be walking in miserable weather, but itís all part of the journey. Iím sure I will have days on end of being wet and tired, but thatís simply not enough to send me home. By leaving a bit later in the season, I am hoping to avoid extended periods of snow in the Smokies, but you just never know. The best you can do is to be prepared for the worst and hope for the best.
Are you carrying a gun?
Yup. Iím carrying a bazooka. Or an Uzi. I havenít decided yet. Are you kidding me? Of course Iím not carrying a gun! Iíd probably shoot my dang feet off. That and itís not a necessity, in my opinion. The trail is probably the safest place to be.
Arenít you afraid of bears?
Hell yeah Iím afraid of bears! Especially grizzlies and momma bears! BUT, I also have spent a lot of time in the wilderness and know that if I respect them, they will do the same. I donít plan on doing anything to attract their attention, such as dousing myself in honey and sneaking up on them in the underbrush. It is also important to ďbear bagĒ your food and scented items (toothpaste, etc). By bear bag, I mean, food is to be hung on a tree branch, about 12-15 feet from the ground and 8 feet from the trunk of the tree. You should cook 150 feet from your tent and hang your bag about the same distance. Sleeping with your food is not a wise choice as nylon is not an acceptable form of bear protection.
Are you afraid of crazy people in the woods?
Newsflash: I AM one of those crazy people in the woods. They arenít the ones Iím afraid of because I know they are crazy! Iím more concerned about the loonies in the trail towns. Itís important, especially for females, to be careful about talking about your hiking plans or destination when in trail towns. Thatís probably more dangerous than anything, and itís about being smart.
Wonít you be bored?
Not in a million years. Itís not just walking, itís an adventure. Itís a challenge physically, mentally, and spiritually. There are amazing views, amazing wildernesses, and amazing people the entire length of the trail. Iíve never been bored for a minute while hiking and backpacking. I will have a lot of time, yes, but I am looking forward to it because it will be MY time. Being away from the ďnormal routineĒ of fast meals, fast cars and technology gives me the time to stop and really see what is around me.
What are you going to do after your hike?
After summiting Katahdin,
I donít get it.
Itís okay. Not a lot of people do. The beauty of it is that you donít have to get it.