Becoming Dirty Hiker Trash 2.0
Who’s getting back in the long-distance hiking saddle after four years of dreaming, planning, working, and saving? This girl! Tag along with me for a recap of my sink-or-swim-style introduction to backpacking, the resultant disjointed thru-hike attempt of 2015, and learn about my plans for another thru-hike attempt this year!
Let’s Throwback to the Beginning
Alrighty, then. First things first. In the fall of 2013, something sparked my interest in hiking the Appalachian Trail, which led me to purchase the only two books about the AT I could find at the local bookstore – Walking the Appalachian Trail, by Larry Luxenberg, and A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson. The first provided a historical background of the trail and stories from past thru-hikers. The second was a fluffier story of the author’s trail experiences on a thru-hike attempt. I found both worthwhile reads and entertaining in their own right.
The Road to Adventure
Fast-forward through the next year and a half to spring, 2015: I quit both of my jobs, left a relationship of five years that had sadly become unfulfilling, and had spent copious hours researching the hell out of gear, hiker foods, and the trail itself. I spent a fair amount of money to outfit myself and buy food for resupply boxes that my awesome parents agreed to send to me as needed. Rounds of final gear testing (aka setting up the tent in my folks’ backyard) and packing my pack about twenty times to get it just right filled the days leading up to my departure. *Side note: the pack weighed between 40- and 50-pounds, so it could never be just right…
Cue the obligatory photo of an awkward, fresh hiker sporting a humongous pack in the brown, early spring Georgia woods. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention – I hit the trail in 2015 having absolutely zero experience with backpacking and camping on my own. Whoops! Here goes nothing!
Becoming Dirty Hiker Trash: Round One (the nitty-gritty)
Here are a few quick details to give insight into my journey:
*NOBO = northbound
*SOBO = southbound
Start date: April 11, 2015, at Springer Mountain, GA.
Days as a solo hiker: Seven, from the outset (alone, but never ALONE, in a herd of newbie NOBOs).
Reached Harpers Ferry (psychological halfway point): July 21, 2015, a bit behind schedule. Most NOBO thru-hikers aim to reach Harpers by July 4.
Why so slow?: Foot issues; frequent or extended town stays due to said foot issues; waiting out the weather; living the dream.
Thru-hike-turned-flip-flop in Harpers Ferry: My trail family (tramily) dispersed, i.e., flipped to Maine or quit the trail or were too far ahead to catch. I felt a lack of confidence in myself hiking solo and making miles NOBO to finish before seasonally bad weather set in on Katahdin.
Where did I flip: Monson, ME; I approached and summited Katahdin NOBO, then shuttled and hiked SOBO from Monson.
End of thru-attempt: Aug. 26, 2015, in Rangeley, ME.
Total miles hiked: 1,068
Why miles south of Harpers Ferry were skipped: Foot issues, discomfort, excuses, excuses.
Why I stopped: Fell into a cool long-term work-for-stay at a hostel with a new tramily member; the pull of friends and town was stronger than the pull of the trail; I was content with where I was and what I was doing.
Round Two *Ding Ding*
A bit more seasoned in terms of backpacking experience and all that comes with it, my plans for a second thru-hike attempt are a bit more diverse, no longer a straight shot from Georgia to Maine, and no longer a solo adventure.
Exploring the world of dirty hiker trash with me will be my boyfriend, Garrett – an avid outdoorsman with a well-rounded skill set and knowledge base ranging from backpacking, skiing, and cooking, to wilderness first aid and rescue, EMT work, and both wildland and structural firefighting. Though this will be his first attempt at a long-distance thru-hike, this is in no way a new challenge in terms of gear, terrain, weather, and physical effort. Garrett grew up in Maine and spent a lot of time hiking throughout the White Mountains of New Hampshire, as well as in the western mountains of Maine and Baxter State Park. Thru-hiking the AT will serve to build upon existing experience and provide novel challenges for Garrett, primarily in the resupply and mileage planning aspects of a long-distance hike.
A Little Bit of Prep
Many day hike excursions and overnight shakedown trips have served to dial in our gear setups over the last year and a half, a couple of which were between five- and ten-days long. During our last trip in October — a 40+ mile section hike on the Arizona Trail — we definitely found some issues with the tent system we had thought to use for the thru-hike. A few other smaller pieces of gear need to be swapped out (I’m looking at you, BeFree filter). Look for future posts with more details about gear and shakedown hikes! For now, I’ll just say that we’re still having fun squaring away our kits and making gear decisions in terms of weight, efficiency, and functionality.
So, What Are We Doing?
Our basic plans for this thru-hike attempt involve launching from PA, hiking south to GA, then flipping back to PA, and hiking north to ME.
Actually getting on the trail coincides with several factors:
*Trail Impact – a majority of thru-hike attempts begin at the southern terminus in GA. A large, early spring bubble of NOBOs creates an overcrowded trail and shelter environment, depleting resources more quickly.
*Seasonal Challenges – the oppressive heat and humidity of summertime in the mid-trail states, as well as the longest sections of waterless trail (which are in PA), are hardships I’m familiar with and plan to circumvent.
*Convenience – my parents live within a two- to three-hour drive radius from much of the trail in PA, MD, WV, and northern VA. Their assistance with shuttling us to and from the trail for prior engagements will be invaluable.
*Big Finale – we both want to finish our hike with an epic Katahdin summit.
When can we start? Short answer: mid-April. We work at Sugarloaf Mountain Ski Resort in Maine, fulfilling multiple roles from food service to resort guest interaction. Sugarloaf strives to be the “King of Spring,” hosting a blowout party mid-April — Reggaefest — when warmer weather conditions are prime. This hootenanny is generally the last hurrah of the season, and business slows down considerably afterward. Garrett and I will work through reggae weekend, pack up, and drive south to hit the trail.
Juggling prior commitments: We’ll be attending two weddings in May — one the first weekend in Washington state, and the second mid-month in Massachusetts. Sounds fun, right? I’m almost dizzy thinking about multiple whirlwind transitions from the trail to a wedding and back again.
Stay tuned for more, and thanks for reading!
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Love it! I’m excited reading this and look forward to reading more about your adventures!
Sorry happy for you both. Can’t wait to follow your great adventure. Have fun and be safe. Love Mom
I look forward to your tales from the trail.
Stay safe and healthy! Wish you all the best. Your Mother is a friend of mine from high school.
So happy for your sharing!!! Look forward to following your adventures from the trail!
I love you – be safe and please write more about your adventures! I hate living so far away – this makes me feel “closer”.