Frequently Asked Questions About an Appalachian Trail Thru Hike

The same questions come up time and time again when people hear that I plan on hiking the Appalachian Trail. I thought it would be good to get an FAQ started to save myself the trouble of replying next time.

Wow, the AT! That’s great man, so bold, you’re… Hey, wait, this is absolutely nuts. Why are you doing this again?

I know, it’s kind of nuts, right? But I think the motivation for quitting my job and willingly hiking over 2,000 miles will resonate with a lot of you.

I hike…

1. For the chance to reset mentally. I’ve spent the last decade of my life in a state of almost constant stress. Pressured to attain perfection in high school, struggling to a business major in college, assimilating into the work force and setting the path for the rest of my life… it’s been absolutely exhausting. I want to reset my hierarchy of needs. My life has become an unhealthy cycle of unfulfilling work, and I want to hit the reset button to get back to the basics.

2. For the physical challenge. I’ve always been in OK shape, but my health has definitely slipped since joining the corporate world. Sitting stressed behind a desk for 8+ hours a day staring at a screen has wreaked havoc on my physical (and emotional) well-being. A challenge of this magnitude is the kick in the pants I need to get back on my feet and out on the trail for some exercise.

3. For the love of the outdoors. I lived in New Hampshire as a kid, surrounded by trees, lakes, and grass. It was lovely. Then I spent two years in and around New York City, where all I saw were homeless people and piles of trash on street corners. Now I live in Chicago, where it’s too cold for anything green to grow. I really miss breathing fresh air. 6 months should be enough to cleanse the lungs.

Lastly, and most importantly, nothing in my life has ever felt so right. I feel Katahdin calling, and I know I’ll kick myself every day for the rest of my life if I don’t try to accomplish this goal. I can’t ignore this kind of feeling… it’s, well, it’s more than a feeling. It’s a mission. When something jumps up and smacks you in the face this hard, you tend to listen.

What’s your gameplan if you see a bear?

Studies show the best way to deal with bears is to kick them square in the testicles. If that fails, well… there’s a reason only 20% of prospective thru-hikers make it to Katahdin.

Seriously though, I totally respect bears. They’re huge, and according to Winnie the Pooh, they are capable of pulling some Exorcist-level shit when provoked. For that reason, I will definitely not be provoking them.

But let’s talk for a moment about how prevalent bear attacks actually are. Crunching the numbers from this wikipedia article on bear attacks, since 1970, there have been a total of 101 fatalities from North America wild bear attacks, which is a whopping average of 2.3 fatalities per year. (This analysis excluded the idiots who climb willingly into bear pens at zoos.)

2.3 fatalities per year. Let’s compare that to:

All of these are far more dangerous than bears. I will certainly not be doing any of these while on the trail. (Belts are heavy to lug around, so alas, I’ll have to leave mine at home.)

Basic precautions like bear bagging my food each night will keep those pesky bears away. Next question!

“Haven’t you seen the movie Deliverance? There are hill-people out in the mountains who will skin you alive!”

Deliverance was absolutely based on a true story, so I’m taking this warning seriously. The sprint through the NC / Tennessee section of the trail will be physically and mentally exhausting. If I make it through that, I can definitely make it to Maine.

FACT: Tennessee is filled with ass-backwards hillbillies that will almost certainly eat you for dinner if you stray too far off the trail. Step very carefully while in the South…

How much is this going to cost you?

A ton of planning goes into spending 6 months in the woods. Gear, food, on-trail expenses, on-trail replacements, travel to and from the trail, practice (shakedown) hikes, etc. This can be… pretty expensive.

The Microsoft Excel nerd in me requires I keep detailed notes around financials. I’ll be doing an extensive post in the future detailing my costs and savings plan, but my general philosophy is that I want to get the top tier gear, carefully research proper use and care for that gear, and have it last the whole thru-hike (and beyond) wherever possible.

I’m (very conservatively) estimating the final tab will run around $10,000. I know that a lot of people will balk at that number (Bah! I did my thru hike for $30! And I never once stopped in town! And it was uphill both ways! And has anyone seen my dentures?), but I’m doing lots of prep work, testing gear to find out what works for me, and allowing myself a large budget for once I get out on trail.

Better safe than sorry. Running out of money and having to return home would be absolutely soul-crushing. That’s a pretty crappy reason to give up on a dream.

How are you taking 6 months to do this? Don’t you have a job, ya bum?

I do, and thank God for that, because it will be funding this thru-hike. What’s the point of a job if you don’t use it to pay for badass stuff like this?

My plan for continuing gainful employment after my hike is simple.

  1. Throughout 2015, perform at an exceptionally high level at work. Be so good they can’t let me go. Put in the long hours, kick ass, and wedge myself firmly into the future corporate ladder.
  2. Develop relationships with senior management. Make sure they notice my work.
  3. Request a 6 month unpaid sabbatical to hike the Appalachian Trail.
  4. If that succeeds, hike from Georgia to Maine, fly back to Chicago 6 months later, and start work again with a wealth of wilderness experience and an awesome hiker beard. (Keeping the hiker beard is a non-negotiable condition for returning to work.)
  5. If that fails, pack up my stapler and motivational posters, gracefully exit the building for the last time, hike from Georgia to Maine, and 6 months later figure out the rest of my life on the hike down from Katahdin.

Side note: I hope you clicked that “motivational posters” link above, because yes, I actually do have that kitty cat “Hang In There” poster hanging in my cubicle. The corporate world can be bleak sometimes. It’s the little things.

I’ve always dreamed of hiking the AT, but I’ve got a holding me back.

I hope you will read this and say to yourself, “Vinny is just a normal dude. He decided to try his own thing, to see what happens when he pushed himself, and he’s hustling to make it happen. I’m ready to start too.” Whatever that “thing” is for you, whether that’s hiking the AT, or climbing Everest, or bicycling across the US. I hope you start preparing to do it today.

Also, not to make this preachy or anything, but realize that you need to stop making excuses. You choose to live your own life. The timing will never be 100% right. Rent your house out for 6 months. Give your pet rabbit to a friend. Sell your car, and get your ass to either Springer or Katahdin, put one foot in front of the other to start walking towards your dream. It’s later than you think in your life, and you may run out of time before you run out of excuses.

Photo supplied thanks to Compass Points Media under the Creative Commons license. Full license information available here.

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