Horizon of a Thru-Hike: QAF and Prep
Greetings friends, family, old acquaintances, and AT community. If you’re reading this, you’re supporting my thru-hike already, so thanks.
Welcome to my blog, the canvas for my musings, insights, and trail stories for the next five months. To kick this thing off, I’m going to respond to the questions that I’ve been asked the most when I’ve told folks about my prospective adventure and also talk a little bit about how I’ve been preparing for this trip. Huzzah!
Questions Asked Frequently (QAF)
Inherently, there are many questions that come up upon telling people in my life about this trip I’m about to embark on, as that list includes everybody from camp pals to grandparents to the guy replacing my tire witnessing small talk actually become interesting. Everybody has a varying understanding of what this trip entails, with some people knowing somebody who did that one time and others having never heard of such a thing. I’ve spent most of the last four months fielding questions all across the board, and as a result I have a pretty good idea of what the first questions are for most people. The following list will hopefully give you a pretty good idea of what this trip will generally look like. Here we go.
Q: How will you get your food?
A: No, I won’t be foraging or hunting; no, I won’t have to try to carry a month of food at any given time; and no, I actually won’t even have to mail myself anything. The AT winds right through many towns and very close to others, so on average I’ll only have to carry three to six days worth of food with me at any given time. Occasionally I’ll have to find a ride into town, but for the most part it looks like I’ll be close enough to walk the extra couple miles or sometimes even walk right through towns.
Q: How big and heavy is your pack?
A: Over the last four months, I’ve been reading up on ultralight backpacking, carrying as little as possible while still being comfortable. Technology has made backpacking much easier over the last couple of decades, and now lightweight affordable options are mass produced and easy to get. I’ve spent a pretty penny (about $1,500) investing in quality lightweight gear. As a result, my base weight (that is, the weight of all of my gear before food, water, and fuel) comes in at just under 12 pounds. Fully loaded, I should be in the 20- to 25-pound range. For a frame of reference, I’ve been backpacking for about seven years now, with about 70 total nights of field experience, and my pack typically weighs 35 to 50 pounds. I can already tell this lighter pack is going to make a world of difference.
Q: Are you going to carry a weapon for protection?
A: Nope. Black bears are typically just big raccoons in this region, and the trail is populous enough that it’s rare that people have really bad encounters with other people. Guns and pepper spray are too heavy, and I’m confident that I’m friendly enough to avoid making any nemeses.
Q: Are you hiking alone or with friend(s)?
A: Going solo. Again, the trail will be pretty packed, so I plan on making friends and hiking with other folks on and off while I’m out there, but my journey begins alone.
Q: What all do you carry?
A: Great question. There’s an awesome website called lighterpack that helps backpackers track all their gear and its weight. Check out mine at https://lighterpack.com/r/26yeev
One of the biggest overarching questions I received and worked through myself has been how on earth do you put together a five-month backpacking trip? Well, I’m still not sure of the best way to go about it, but here’s what I ended up doing.
Research: I spent a few hours every week researching various parts of the AT thru-hiker experience. This included tediously scraping through intricate maps of the trail, copious amounts of YouTube bingeing, and reading about the most popular gear used by thru-hikers (thetrek.co has an awesome article on this every year).
Conditioning: I admit that I could’ve done much better here, but I at least didn’t sit around and watch the grass grow for four months. I got a job working six hours on my feet every day in addition to occasional six-mile runs and sporadically walking through Nashville with a 40-pound pack on. I also spent more time stretching my legs in 2018 than I probably have in the last five years combined (which actually isn’t saying much) and flirting with random bouts of yoga. All in all I’d give myself a solid C-plus as far as physical preparation goes, but I’m planning on taking it slow at the start and spending my first month building hiker legs anyway.
Planning: There are some excellent resources available to hikers these days, and I was able to come across a great master map of the trail that included maps of all towns the trail gets remotely close to and even the distance between shelters all along the trail. Using this tool, I spent about a week writing out a rough draft of my trip plan. While I certainly don’t plan on even attempting to stick to it (the experience is all about freedom, after all), it’s been nice to have a general plan to reference to give folks estimates on when I’ll be passing through different parts of the country.
Now that push is coming to shove, I’m starting to feel just a little bit nervous for the first time in this process. The feeling reminds me of the first time I ever went to summer camp by myself, extremely excited but also anxious of fellow campers I’d be getting to know and other ways I might be pushed out of my comfort zone. Coincidentally, this will be my first summer in 17 years having no affiliation with a summer camp at any point. It was those weeks as a camper, summers as a counselor, and years as a director that have propelled me to this position in life, and I’m extremely grateful for their role in my journey.
Only five more days until my trek begins, and all in all, I really couldn’t be more excited. Look out, AT. Woo-hoo!
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