How I’m Prepping for My Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike
Yes, I have a countdown of days until the trail on a whiteboard in my room. Yes, changing the number each day is exhilarating. And yes, it feels like I am thinking about this hike 24/7.
1. Picking a Start Date
I am pretty awful at making big decisions, so picking a start date for my northbound hike was pretty overwhelming. I’ve spent months stressing about the ideal start date, but I eventually managed to convince myself that since there’s no way to 100% accurately predict what the weather will be like in Georgia months from now, I have to just pick a date and go with it. Whatever happens with the weather will happen, and I’ll figure out how to deal with it. I think that’s part of the beauty of a thru-hike.
In the end, I chose my date based mainly on typical weather and where I think the crowded northbound “bubble” of hikers will be. My hope is that I won’t freeze during the first few weeks but also won’t end up spending all of my hike smack dab in the middle of the bubble. Some other factors that contributed to my decision were some other stuff I have going on in my life before my hike, as well as flight prices.
2. Booking Transportation and Lodging
Prior to actually starting the Appalachian Trail, I will be hiking the 8.8-mile approach trail, which leaves from near the Amicalola Falls State Park visitor center and will take me to the start of the AT. There are pretty limited lodging options near the start of the approach trail. Ideally, I would fly to Georgia, get to Amicalola, and hit the trail all in the same day, but since Amicalola Falls State Park is at least an hour and a half from the airport, it seemed like doing this would lead to a stressful and hectic first day – not ideal. Therefore, I’ve decided to stay at the Amicalola Falls Lodge. It’s on the pricey side, but by staying at the lodge, I know I’ll be able to get some decent non-hiking food in me and an ok night of sleep before I start this 2,194.3(+8.8)-mile adventure, and I’ll be able to get on the trail early in the day.
Because I do not live close to Georgia, I will be flying from Boston to Atlanta. Luckily there are a lot of flights (one almost every hour) between those two cities every day. Once I had a day picked out, I went for a flight that was early enough to give me enough time to get to Amicalola Falls State Park and get settled while not being so early that I would end up exhausted before I even start the trail. (Though let’s be honest – I’ll probably get like 2 hours of sleep and wake up at three a.m. from excitement the night before anyway.)
When I first started writing this post, I was going to say that I had yet to book a shuttle from the airport to the lodge (The Trek has a helpful list of shuttle options here). However, since then, my mom has decided to fly down to Georgia with me to see me off on my adventure. 🙂 This means that we’ll be renting a car and driving from the airport to Amicalola (with a stop along the way to pick up fuel from REI).
3. Registering My Hike with the ATC
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) requests that hikers hitting the AT register their hike online. This isn’t a permit or anything, but it does help the ATC plan for how many people are going to be starting the trail each day. Since the number of registered hikers for each day is publicly available, hikers can try to pick a start date with fewer people to minimize impact on the trail and associated resources.
4. Organizing Mail Drops
I will be sending a few boxes to certain towns along the trail, particularly ones that are notorious for having limited resupply options. With this hike, I am trying my best to not plan out every single detail. However, I have decided that the stress of potentially not having sufficient food for a section would be greater than the stress of trying to make it to wherever I’m picking up my resupply box on time. My plan is to put everything in labeled, unsealed boxes. Then my wonderful mother will send these to me at various points along the trail. Since the boxes will still be unsealed at home, I can ask her to add anything extra I decide I need before taping up the box and mailing it.
5. Testing Gear and Making Final Purchases
I already have all of my big gear items. I’ve used just about everything on at least one backpacking trip, and I’m pretty happy with all of it. However, I’ve been using the colder weather to test out my sleep system to figure out if I need to add any items to be warm enough. I’m also hoping to figure out the lower nighttime temperature limit I can handle with my setup. For example, if the temperature is predicted to go below 20°F, do I need to book it to the nearest hostel, or will I still be ok in my tent?
There are also still a few small things I need to buy. These include certain first aid items, as well as a rock sack since I decided that I’m sick of searching for the perfect rock or stick to try to tie my paracord to to throw it over a branch when hanging my food bag. I’ll be sharing my full gear list once my hike gets a little closer and I get all the small details ironed out.
6. Staying in Good Hiking Shape
I love exercising and being outside, so this one comes pretty naturally to me and would probably happen even if I weren’t hiking the AT. Some days, this looks like a three-mile walk with my mom where I load 25 pounds in my pack or a six-mile run. Other days, I go on a 15-20 mile hike in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Since it is now fully winter in the Whites, this also gives me a good opportunity to test the limits of some of the layers I’ll be bringing on the trail. I figure if my layering can handle the below-zero temps in the Whites in winter, I should hopefully be good on the AT in March.
7. Planning Must-Visit Spots on Trail
Again, I’m trying not to plan out every single detail of this trip because I want to get better at going with the flow. However, there are a few spots along the trail (stores, shelters, views, etc.) that I want to make sure I don’t miss, so I’ve been going though the AWOL guide that I’ll be bringing with me and highlighting these.
8. Leaving Work
I only started at my current job this past June. I told them I was planning this hike before I was even hired. This is definitely a risky move, and I wouldn’t really recommend it to others, but it worked out for me, and for that, I feel extremely lucky and grateful. Because my company knew from the get-go that I would be leaving in March, I was hired as an intern. Since I’ve only recently decided on an exact start date, I finally told them what day I will definitely be leaving. I’m not leaving for another few months, so I’m sure that once my last day of work gets closer, there will be more to do to make sure everything is squared away before I hit the trail.
9. Getting Hyped!
I already think about the AT probably every hour, so this I definitely the easiest one for me to do. I can’t wait!
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