Big Three of Pre-Hike Questions

As someone who has only recently decided to undertake a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2020, the bulk of my preparation so far has involved fielding the questions posed by my family, friends, and coworkers. As I’m sure many of you are aware, these questions tend to repeat themselves and you find yourself giving the same responses over and over. Therefore, I decided to summarize the questions I’ve been asked about my hike into my Big Three of pre-hike questions.


1. You’re doing it alone?

Yes, I am a twentysomething female and yes, I am starting alone. I specify “starting” because as most know, starting the AT in March, you won’t be alone for long. Already there are about 30 other people registered with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to start on the same day as me, and that’s not counting those who don’t register. (It’s voluntary, don’t worry. But also REGISTER @ A.T Camper Registration.)

Honestly, I am more nervous about the over-socialization aspect then I am about being alone. I picture the first few nights at camp something like the first few days at college. I am a bit introverted but historically outdoor activities have brought me out of my shell and I’m cautiously optimistic that this pattern will hold as I start my hike.

2. Is it safe?

For me personally, I find this question silly. I bike about 30 miles every day in and around Washington, DC/Baltimore and in the past six months, I have been hit by cars three times. Yet my mother has repeatedly asked me how I plan to protect myself against bears. I like my odds of not being attacked by a bear a lot better then my odds of not being hit on my bike again. This is assuming I take the same type of common sense precautions I do when I bike, like properly storing my food.

 Living in the city I find there to be a lot more things to be afraid of (cars, thieves, ten creepy people at the bar) then in the woods (animals, getting lost, ine creepy person at the shelter). At the very least, I try to convey to people that the trail is no less safe then the “real” world, even if statistics indicate it’s actually safer, as long as you do you due diligence.

3. Six months?

While I’m not set on any length of time for the trail, the number I’ve been telling people is six months. The first thing I had to do was tell my boss than I would not be continuing on to do another year for my research fellowship. Instead, I would take a year off before heading off to grad school for public health. Having somewhat of a plan for my post-hike life has made it a bit easier to explain to people.

I’ve been describing it as a gap year to make it more easily conceptualized by those not familiar with thru-hiking. What’s more crazy; sitting in a chair in front of a computer for 12 months, or walking for six? I’ll let you decide. But for me, I feel as though hiking is a better use of my time preparing myself for my “adult” life then another year doing the same work I’ve already become proficient in. 

I consider myself lucky that I am in a position where my job has defined lengths and I don’t risk much by choosing to leave one year early. So I know for many of my family and friends, the idea of taking six months off sounds crazy and risky, but for me, the time is perfect and the logistics of it just makes sense. And yes, I have thought it through. 

Other than learning to answer these types of questions about my upcoming hike, the most prep I’ve done is change my Instagram handle to reflect my hiking philosophy, @waitingtopee. Four months and change to get it together!

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Comments 6

  • Watermelon : Oct 9th

    I too am planning my thru-hike! It will be the PCT instead, but it has garnered the same types of questions! That’s why I love this blog forum at theTrek! I just send them to my blog😂. I can’t wait to follow your journey!

  • DMFINO : Oct 10th

    I can do all things through ADHD which strengthens me. – I’m sharing this with my wife!! Good luck. We’ll follow you. DMFINO

    • Yermo : Oct 10th

      Bears scary? Yes. But nobody worries about getting hit by meteorites? About same chance?

      • Bonnie Salmerón : Oct 10th

        Hah! Yeah exactly

    • Bonnie Salmerón : Oct 10th

      Thank you! With any luck it will carry me through 🙂

  • FM : Oct 11th

    How many miles you feel like doing each day is largely limited by daily caloric supply. Let’s assume wet weather and all the little grievances that make us want to quit before energy is exhausted–don’t.

    So let’s say you were a smart cookie and researched well to evolve a typical ultralight/light pack weight totaling 25 lbs: 5 days of dehydrated food (11.5lbs), 2L of water max (4.5lbs), worn gear (3lbs) plus packed gear (9lbs). You’ll need about 100 calories per mile. With 5000 calories of near dry food weight and wrappers of 2.3 lbs per day, a 160 lb body weight hiker can do about 20 miles per day (10 hours of accumulated movement each day). That’s 110 days. Throw in a zero day every 6th day at a town resupply and you have 22 more days–132 days or about 4-1/3 months (An average 17 miles per day overall).

    With caloric supply steady at 5000 calories a day and 10 hours a day of progressive movement, mileage can vary (from up to 30 miles a day in early PA to as little as 10 miles a day in the Whites.)

    Point is, pack less than 5000 calories and expect daily mileage to drop and time to completion to be more. You can’t do more than your food will let you. Carbs are more critical in this regard. One should have about 10% protein, 45% carbs and 45% fat (by total calories) to prevent muscle glycogen/sugar depletion. Hiking on fat energy alone is a gruesome experience. Monitoring breath is crucial to preventing this. A light audible breath typical of just under about 70% max heart rate (pulse) should not be exceeded to prevent rapid muscle glycogen depletion. Burn up those mountains like a rocket though and expect to crash like a nuclear warhead before you reach anticipated daily mileage goal.


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