How I’m Going to Hike the Appalachian Trail in 2019
Next year at the end of March I’ll start a 3500km (2,180 miles) hike on the Appalachian Trail. The trail follows the Appalachian Mountains and I’ll be walking northbound from Georgia to Maine. That is pretty far from home—I live in tiny, flat Denmark, where our highest point is a mere bump on the ground at 170m (550 feet).
When I have been talking to friends and family about this awesome project, I’ve gotten a ton of questions and a lot of wow-that-sounds-so-cool! A lot fewer people think I’m crazy then I thought would happen, so maybe I’m not so crazy either then. Whew.
Very few people have asked why—I’ve gotten a lot more of how questions. So I’ll try to answer some of those here—and then I’ll leave the why (which is super important) to a later blog post.
Won’t you miss home?
Yes. Terribly. I’ll miss friends and family and above all my wife, Addi. Luckily, she has been super supportive about this crazy idea of mine, and she’ll come and visit on trail a couple of times. She’ll even hike with me for some time! Also, you can’t get salty licorice in the US, so I’ll feel like I’m very far from home when I get my (at least weekly) cravings for licorice.
Why not just hike the Camino or some trail in Europe?
That would make a lot more sense—I mean, I wouldn’t have to get a visa like I had to for the US and I’d just be closer to home in a time zone that made sense. And I’d love to do the Camino some day, but right now I am fascinated by the Appalachian Trail’s nature and the social aspects of hiking it. The US has a strong culture around the long trails that I think would be hard to find in Europe.
What about your job?
They were nice enough to give me six months leave, so I can come back to my job once I’m done. It’s not paid leave, but I’ve saved up some money for about four months on trail and for the rest of the time I’ll use our credit on the apartment and pay back to that once I get home.
How long will it take?
I don’t know. Most people take four to six months. I consider myself a pretty fast walker, but I don’t have that much experience hiking in mountains, so I could be absolutely wrong about my pace. I also might get an injury that will take me off trail for a couple of days, or maybe I’ll just need an extra day in a hotel sometime. Since I’ve taken leave for six months I’m also hoping to not rush it. If I’m on a mountain with an amazing view or just someplace spectacular, I’d like to be able to stay and enjoy it a bit and not just swoosh by it.
How are you training for the trail?
I’m not really doing all that much. I’m doing weight training, and I always walk a lot, but I should probably be walking around with a heavy backpack every weekend. I don’t have a ton of hiking experience. I’ve only done a one-nighter this summer in the Sawtooths in Idaho (holy shit, that was beautiful), a couple of overnighters in Sweden, and some hiking on The Ox Road (Hærvejen) in Denmark.
Won’t you get lost?
Probably. People who know me will tell you that I’m not great with that sense of direction thing. I can be walking home from work, walk into a store, walk out, and go in the direction I came from. I normally realize my mistake in time, but let’s just say that most people have a better idea about where they are in the world than I do. The Appalachian Trail is marked with white blazes all the way, so I’ll simply follow them. Should be easy™! I will also carry a compass, my smartphone loaded with maps, and a Garmin InReach Mini, which is a device that provides GPS navigation and it has an SOS button in case I get in real trouble. I’m not hoping to have to push that button, so I’ll be diligent about using my compass and phone.
Where will you sleep?
In my tent. There are a lot of shelters along the trail, so I’ll likely stay in them from time to time, but I do like my little tent. If you are curious how my home for the six months is going to look, it’s a Gossamer Gear The One. I’ll also spend some nights in hotels or hostels so I can get laundry done, take a shower, or catch up on email, blogging, and phone calls.
What will you eat?
Highly processed and calorie-dense food. I’ll burn a lot of calories, so I’ll need the calories—but I won’t need it to be highly processed—it’s just that I don’t have a choice. I’ll likely resupply every three to five days, so carrying a fresh salad and a ceviche is not an option. It’s going to be more like powdered mashed potatoes, ramen noodles, Snickers bars and M&Ms. I’ll be carrying a water filter so I can purify water from streams along the way.
Do you really know what you are doing?
OK, no. I can see the irony in writing a blog post about how I’m going to hike the AT, when in reality I have no idea how to do that. But hopefully I’ll learn along the way. I’ve been doing some mental training to prepare myself for how little I can actually be prepared. I think I’m prepared to be unprepared and to just take every day as it comes and remember to enjoy it.
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