Sunday, December 11, 2011

frequently asked thru hiking questions

How long are you hiking?
The trail runs from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt Katahdin in Maine, around 2,100 miles. Most thru hikers start in GA, but an increasing percentage of hikers are starting in Maine and heading south (southbonders, or SOBOs). I'll be starting in the beginning of April in Georgia and finish 5 to 6 months later in Maine.

How do you get food?
The trail travels near and literally through towns. It seems like most thru hikers these days buy food along the way, but some still use the mail drop method, where they send packages to post offices all along the trail and pick them up as they get there. This sounds like a huge hassle to me to package all that and plan when you'll need food. Lucky for me, I can also send word to Beau and let him know if I'm going to need something in particular and he can mail it ahead for me to pick up. Post offices in trail towns are accostomed to holding packages for thru hikers.

Wait, so Beau's not going with you? YOU'RE GOING ALONE??
Yikes, chill out. No, Beau is not going with me. He doesn't want to, and I don't blame him. Not many people think walking for 5 months straight sounds as fun as I do.  But I wouldn’t say that I’ll be alone. No, I’m not setting out with a partner like some people do, but considering a couple thousand people attempt this every year, I’m pretty sure I’ll meet some people I like and generally stick with.  While of course I’d like the support (and sharing pack weight!) of having my husband with me, I’m confident that we can do this.  We happen to live 45 minutes from the mid point of the trail- Harper’s Ferry.  This works out quite nicely that I’m never more than a day’s drive away, so Beau will be coming to visit any weekend he can.  My parents, who have a goal of section hiking the trail (they have completed 500 miles so far) will probably meet up with me at various times as well.

Is it safe?
An observation: This is a common question I get from people who are unfamiliar with the Appalachian Trail.  Anyone who is familiar with the AT does not really question safety (with the exception of my dear grandma- but you're allowed to do whatever you want when you're Gram).  I'm actually surprised and a little amused at the reactions I've gotten from some people in regards to this topic. I have concluded that I cannot convince anyone who thinks thru hiking is unsafe otherwise. I think I will be just as safe thru hiking as I would be going about business in NoVa.  I recently read Women and Thru Hiking on the Appalachian Trail, which gave me some good guidelines to follow about personal safety.  If you’re really really concerned, shoot me an email and I am happy to explain the safety precautions I will be taking.  If it’s any consolation, my dad is not overly concerned, and he is the most practical person I know.

Where do you stay along the way?
There are 274 shelters on the Appalachian Trail.  Shelters are usually 3 sided structures that sleep anywhere from 4-20 people in addition to tent areas.  I believe most, if not all, have water sources.  Thru hikers also frequent hostels or hotels, depending on budget and schedule.

Do people get lost? How do you know where shelters, water and towns are?
Getting lost is pretty difficult. The trail is marked by white blazes (paint) on trees or rocks the whole way.  There are actually two different and popular guidebooks designed just for thru hikers.  They list distances to the nearest shelters and springs and towns.  They also list what amenities the town has- grocery stores, hotels, dentists, laundromats, restaurants, post offices, etc. Sometimes they even have numbers of locals who will provide rides or help thru hikers out.
2,100 miles... 5-6 months... How many miles a day is that? Are you doing anything to train?
This, of course, varies per person.  People come in with varying fitness levels, but after the first several weeks, most hikers are doing 20 mile days on average terrain, and I've read tons of blogs where they're doing 25+ miles per day on easy terrain.  Of course, thru hikers take "zero days" in town every so often to resupply, do laundry, rest, etc.  So an average schedule would be wake up early, walk a bunch, have some snacks, walk some more, stop at a shelter for the evening, make some dinner, go to bed.  As far as training, they say the best way to train for walking up and down mountains with a pack on your back is... walking up and down mountains with a pack on your back. On the job training.  Of course, I'm going to continue running, cycling, going to the gym, etc., so I'll probably be a little more ready on the first day than your average bear, but everyone will be pretty evened out after a little while.

What about going to church?
I hope to attend church as often as I can.  That may end up being only once a month, but my plan is to contact the bishop or Relief Society president when the trail is within reasonable distance to a chapel and see if anyone in the ward would be willing to pick me up and give me a ride.  Maybe I can even get a shower out of the deal, too...
This is something I thought a lot about when I was first contemplating this whole thru hiking business.  In my church, the Sabbath is a day for rest and worship.  I don't think that sitting in a shelter all day on Sundays is really honoring the Sabbath much, but I would like to try to make Sundays a little different.  One idea I had was to put conference talks on an ipod reserved for Sunday use or having a more focused scripture study time.

Why do you want to do this?
That is an excellent question to which I am still forming a response.  The easy answer is that it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I think it will be one the coolest experiences of my life.  The more reflective (yet still brief) answer, is that I like to prove to myself that I can do hard things.  Yes, I like running and cycling- but running for 13 miles? That’s kind of hard.  Cycling for 100 miles? That’s really hard. Completing a thru hike is my ultimate bucket list experience. 

This was fun! Any more questions I can address?

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