Four-week FAQs

Four weeks from today, I probably won’t be able to sleep. I’ll put all my gear together in my pack and get ready to check it at the airport. I’ll say goodbye to my family. Four weeks and a day from today, I’ll be on a plane to Atlanta. I’ll catch the shuttle to a hostel in Dahlonega, GA, pack and repack and repack my newly-heavy-with-food Osprey, and meet my first hiker trash friends. Four weeks and two days from today, I’ll take my first of approximately five million steps on the Appalachian Trail.

It’s starting to hit me that this is all real. I’m really going to try to walk 2,190 miles. I’m really going to leave everything I know behind for five(ish) months. I’m gonna poop in the woods. I’m (probably) going to see bears in the wild. I’m really going to be free, and very soon. It’s terrifying in the best possible way. I can’t wait.

99% of the conversations I have lately feel like interviews. I don’t blame my friends and family; if someone I knew was doing something that seemed borderline insane from my perspective, I’d have some questions too. Sometimes they’re probing and almost disrespectful, sometimes they’re questions I’ve already answered 50 times. Don’t get me wrong, I love talking about it. Bring me all your questions, I’ll learn ya. But, if you feel like skipping the line, here are the answers to the top FAQs I’ve gotten about my thru-hike.


Q: What is the Appalachian Trail?

A: The AT is a 2,190-mile-long continuous foot path that runs from Springer Mountain in northern Georgia to Mount Katahdin in northern Maine.


Q: What’s a thru-hike?

A: A thru-hike is a one-trip completion of the entire length of a long-distance trail.


Q: So you’re going to be like Reese Witherspoon in that Wild movie, right?

A: Totally different trail, she didn’t thru-hike, different reasons for hiking, etc., etc… But yeah. I hope so. A little bit. Cheryl Strayed is one tough lady.


Q: How long will it take you to finish?

A: Ideally? As close to five months as possible. Realistically? No clue.


Q: Won’t you get lonely?

A: The AT is known as the most social of the long-distance trails.  Last year more than 3,000 hikers attempted a thru hike and that number is anticipated to rise. I know that at least 20 hopeful thru-hikers will start on March 10th with me. There will also be a ton more out there hiking the trail in long sections or just for the day.  I’ll be in good and plentiful company!


Q: What are you doing until you leave?

A: I currently work full time doing in home non-medical healthcare, and I play with my dog.



Packed up for a practice hike on the North Country Trail

Q: How are you training?

A: I’ve gone on a few practice hikes. I read too much about the trail. I talk to AT veterans. I play with and test my gear all the time. I’m leaving early enough that I’ll be able to do small miles for the first few weeks to get myself in shape for the rest of the trek. I’m preparing mentally more than physically.


Q: Can I send you a present/letter while you’re out there?

A: Yes and please! Shoot me an email or contact my mom to find out where my next stop will be!


Q: What about your boyfriend?

A: He’ll be hiking too, just not on the AT and not with me. It was really hard to make the decision to not bring him with me, but the whole point of this journey is for me to become my own “strong, independent woman”. I want to learn to rely on myself and to love myself without anyone else’s encouragement. I want something that is 100% mine. I totally believe that thru-hiking as a couple can be awesome and we’re considering attempting it in the future, just not this time. He supports me 110% which is just the best thing ever.


Q: What/how will you eat?

A: Keywords: large quantities and frequently. I’ll shop/send myself packages in towns close to the trail every 3-5 days and carry what I pick up in my pack. I’m carrying a small, lightweight, gas-fueled stove and cook system.


Q: Couldn’t this wait until after college?

A: Maybe. But I chose now. I hit a low point and had to make a choice about who I wanted to be and the kind of life I wanted to live. I felt that if I put that decision off until after I graduated, it would be too late to make the necessary changes to live a healthy life. I should (hopefully) still graduate on time and my incredible university (go cougs!) made it so easy for me to take the time I needed.


Q: What are you taking to protect yourself from crazy hillbillies?

A: My brain and maybe a can of mace. The trail is another world. Sure, sometimes there are creepers around, but the community is so tightknit and well populated, I’ll never be far from help.


Q: Aren’t you afraid of bears?

A: No, but they’re afraid of me. Black bears (the only kind on the AT) are highly intelligent and, in the majority of cases where they are unprovoked and are not acclimatized to humans, want nothing to do with me or my fellow hikers. As long as I hang my food bag right, I’ll be fine. They’re also my favorite animal, so I may be a little too lax.


Q: How much will this cost you?

A: Probably too much. By the time I reach the end of my road, I’ll have spent an (estimated) $4,000-$5,000.


Q: How can I contact you while you’re gone?

A: I’ll have cell service sometimes, but will usually have my phone on airplane mode to conserve power. I’ll be checking in while in town every 3-5 days. Your best bet is to send me a message on social media and I’ll get back to you ASAP!


Q: Why are you thru-hiking?

A: See my list of whys here.


Q: How can I follow your thru-hike?

A: I’ll be regularly posting pictures and stories on this blog and on all my social media platforms. Subscribe and find more info here!

Is your question missing? Think someone else would like to know the answer? Drop a comment below!

Happy trails!

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Comments 1

  • Janet Dunlap : Feb 9th

    Best wishes on your journey Hannah. I’m Gypsy J starting March 11th 2017 solo NOBO. I’ll be right behind you maybe we’ll see each other on the trail. I’m sure you are as excited and terrified as I am. CAN’T WAIT.


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