Choosing Southbound

I arrived at Katahdin Stream Campground anxious and excited to begin my SOBO journey on the AT. While checking in with the ranger, he reminded me of how few people attempt the AT SOBO, and how even fewer complete it.

He looked at both of us and said, “Are you sure you know what you’re getting yourselves into?” I gave a nervous smile, nodded my head, and immediately began an internal dialogue, questioning whether I had what it would take to trek from Maine to Georgia.

The scarcity of SOBO hikers, paired with some of the terms NOBOs, flip-floppers, and LASHers used jokingly when discussing how crazy SOBOs are (aka lone wolves, not real people, feral), had me thinking about why I chose to go SOBO. Here’s what I came up with:

Timing – We began entertaining the idea of a thru-hike in December of 2018, which meant attempting a NOBO thru-hike would be an incredibly quick turnaround time both logistically and mentally.

Beginning at home – I grew up in Massachusetts and spent my childhood vacations skiing in Maine or hiking/camping in New Hampshire. I wanted to begin this trek in the place that I’ve called home and the place where my love of mountains and the outdoors began.

Starting with physical challenges – I knew taking on Maine and New Hampshire without “hiker legs” would be challenging, but personally, I wanted to take on the physical challenges first to improve my mental game. I want to reach the halfway point and Virginia, the place I’ve called home for 12 years, knowing that the most technical terrain was behind me. It does not mean that the days through Maine and New Hampshire have been easy, and often I question my decision, but with each obstacle and challenge I’m gaining mental fortitude to sustain me through the remainder of the trail.

Enjoying the greatest hits first – We are eating dessert before dinner, which may make the remainder of the trail more mentally challenging. With lower mileage, we’re taking time to enjoy and soak in the stunning views and epic swimming holes throughout Maine and New Hampshire. Hiking SOBO we don’t have a deadline and being so early on in the trail, we haven’t lost our sense of awe yet. I love that we’re seeing this section of trail with fresh eyes and I hope we can sustain the wonder all the way to Georgia.

Solitude – As a 30-something-year-old coming from a fast paced-DC lifestyle, I wanted to be intentional about slowing down and embracing solitude. This doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy human interaction; it simply means I enjoy having time to get lost in my thoughts each day as I trek.

Environmental impact – According to the ATC website, over 6,000 hikers have registered to hike NOBO on the AT in 2019. I wanted to hike SOBO to avoid crowding and reduce harm to fragile trail resources.

History – The trail was designed to be hiked from Maine to Georgia, I’m excited to take in the unique history of this trail. Benton MacKaye’s romantic vision for the trail may not have been fully realized, but I believe the outcome is ultimately the same—there is a beautiful community that the AT has created and sustained since inception.

Learning from NOBOs nearing Katahdin – It has been both inspiring and informative to meet NOBOs nearing the end of their journey. They’ve shared tips and wisdom, as well as highlights from their trek thus far.

I’m a little over 300 miles in and while there are certainly days I wish I had hiker legs to tackle these climbs, I know that I’m gaining confidence with each step forward and I’ve never felt more accomplished crawling into bed at night.

There are so many ways to hike the AT. We all choose different paths for various reasons, but whichever path you choose, it undoubtedly will change you in profound ways.

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Comments 4

  • David A Galloway : Aug 9th

    Good for you on your thoughtful attempt.
    I have a cabin near the southern terminus, Springer Mountain, and have hiked parts of the trail but never the whole trek.
    I often head to Walesi-Yi, an outfitter where the AT actually passes through the building. I usually hit it in March-Aoril when the first of the thruhikers make it there wi th their first serious shake down, getting rid of pounds, useless equipment, getting fitted for boots, doctoring blisters, repairing psyches.
    Just want to wish you the best in your journey to Georgia. When you get to Walesi-Yi near Blood Mountain, highest point on the Georgia section, you have it MADE! I hope to hear of that personal victory. You will be in my morning prayers.
    Blessings. Check out John Hiatt’s song, Drive South for some inspiration for your southland sojourn. I hope to follow your journal log along the way.

    • Peter Lyons : Aug 9th

      Good for you!

  • Sarah Hamby : Aug 10th

    Many of these are reasons I plan to be a SOBOer myself.
    Not to mention … No pressure to be at Katahdin by a certain date!
    Hike on.

  • Kenny G : Oct 7th

    Hi Allison, this is Kenny, we used to work together in another world. I used to have your e-mail but it seems to have been lost along the way, so I thought I’d try here, even though I don’t know if you even access this site any more. I decided to try to contact you after I randomly stumbled across an old e-mail from this site from when you posted about Lyme in 2019, and it started me thinking about you, wondering how you are, and did you ever finish the AT. Hope you get this, it would be nice to hear from you. KG


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