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!
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 then 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, and both were entertaining in their own right. Fast-forward through the next year and a half to spring 2015: I quit both of my jobs as a waitress/bartender, 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. The days leading up to my departure were filled with final gear testing (aka setting up the tent in my folks’ backyard) and packing my pack about 20 times to get it just right. *Side note: the pack weighed between 40 and 50 pounds so it could never be just right…
Cue the obligatory awkward fresh backpacker photo with a humongous pack in the brown, early-spring Georgia woods.
Becoming Dirty Hiker Trash (the Short of It)
I will more than likely revisit my attempted 2015 thru-hike in future posts, but for now here’s a few quick details to give insight into my journey.
Start date: April 11, 2015, at Springer Mountain, GA.
Days as a solo hiker: Seven, in the beginning (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 and frequent/extended town stays due to said foot issues/waiting out the weather/living the dream.
Thru-hike turned flip-flop in Harpers: My trail family (tramily) dispersed, i.e., flipped to Maine/quit the trail/were too far ahead to catch; I felt a lack of confidence in myself hiking solo and making miles NOBO to finish before bad weather set in on Katahdin
Where did I flip to: Monson, ME. Approached and summited Katahdin NOBO, then hiked SOBO from Monson after summiting.
End of thru-attempt: Aug. 26, 2015, in Rangeley, ME.
Total miles hiked: 1,068
Why miles south of Harpers 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
We have shared many day-hiking excursions and overnight shakedown trips 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, on 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, as well as with a few other smaller pieces of gear (I’m looking at you, BeFree filter). I plan on putting out a post with more details about gear and possibly our shakedown hikes, so 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 for us, both individually and as a team.
So What Are We Doing?
Our basic plans for this thru-hike and actually getting on the trail coincide with several factors:
Why flip-flop? We’re aiming to start in PA and hike SOBO to GA, then flip back to PA and hike NOBO to ME. Attempting a NOBO thru-hike in 2015 and watching the rise in NOBO thru-hike attempts over the past few years has made me realize that I do not have a desire to start in GA the second time around. The trail and shelters are overcrowded, and resources become depleted much faster with so many in the early spring bubble heading north. Also, the oppressive heat and humidity of PA in summer is something I am familiar with, having spent most of my life in the state. Avoiding the longest sections of dry/waterless trail on the AT (which are in PA) during summer is definitely a goal. Another point is convenience – my parents live in southeastern PA, within a two- to three-hour drive radius from much of the trail in the state as well as MD, WV, and VA. Their assistance with shuttling us to and from trail in these areas for prior engagements will be invaluable (see number three below). Lastly, we both still want to finish our hike with an epic Katahdin summit, and for Garrett this will be like “walking home,” a factor that is very important to him.
When can we start? The two of us work at Sugarloaf Mountain Ski Resort in Maine, Garrett as a chef and part-time ski coach, and me as a dual-entity at a restaurant on mountain, filling positions as both server and kitchen staff. Sugarloaf prides itself on being known as the “King of Spring” in regards to late-season skiing, and hosts a blowout party, aka Reggaefest, mid-April, 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 have chosen to work through reggae weekend, after which we’ll be packing up and driving down to my parents’ house in Pennsylvania.
Juggling prior commitments: We will be attending two weddings in May, one the first weekend in Washington state, and the second mid-month in Massachusetts. Essentially this means that we will be able to get on trail mid-April and hike for about two weeks before we need to get picked up and fly to WA. After the first wedding we will have seven to ten days to hike before having to drive back north to MA for wedding number two, after which it’s back to PA and the trail. Sounds fun, right? I’m almost dizzy thinking about it.
I’m sure this introductory post may seem late in the game with so many others writing about last-minute prep, gear lists, and heading to the trail already, but it’s taken me a long time to sort out this initial post in terms of what to include and what to leave for later. Stay tuned for more and thanks for reading.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.
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”.