If I Could Do it Over, The Last Half, and Aftermath
If I Could Do It Over
I had an amazing journey and I am incredibly privileged to have had the opportunity to hike the AT. However, there are some things that I would change to do it over.
To start, I’m not entirely sure that I would choose to Flip Flop over doing a traditional NOBO from the back end of the pack. I loved the time I spent hiking with my tramily, but it was short lived. The nature of the flip-flop meant that some of our friends left us at Katahdin. Second, it’s expensive for more reasons than we anticipated. Initially, we thought the costly part of our itinerary was in the journey back to Harper’s Ferry. The reality is that we had very few opportunities to take advantage of some of the luxuries associated with the traditional NOBO route. For example, hiker boxes were not a valid option for resupply. Another small expense to consider is in town-stays and hitch-hiking: the smaller group meant that we didn’t have people to join together for purposes of sharing accommodation expenses.
Next, if I had to summarize the my experience of the last of the trail in one word, it would be “forgotten”. Due to being between hiker bubbles, we found that much of our trail experience in the south half was made more difficult. First, shuttle drivers, trail angels, and hostels were taking breaks to have some time off before the SOBO bubbles came through. They expressed the exhaustion surrounding tending to the NOBO bubble and usually used August for recuperation… I get it… and by no means do I feel entitled to ANY of this. I’m here to hike. However, hostels, shuttles, and trail angels are a large part of the trail experience for some people, and for that reason, I thought I should mention that part of our experience. The other caveat has to do with trail maintenance. August and early September brought A LOT of trail overgrowth. I felt like I couldn’t go a day without being bloodied from pushing through thorn bushes. Other friends of mine had indicated that trail overgrowth wasn’t really an issue for them in the south on their NOBO journey.
Gear and Resupply
Honestly, if I were to do it over again, I would change my gear and resupply strategies significantly. First, I wouldn’t bother buying anything in Canada. Having gear mailed back and forth was incredibly expensive and no matter how much I thought I had my gear dialled in, things change and the West Coast can’t really prepare you for the East Coast. I would have preferred to have taken the gear I already owned, and waited until I knew what I wanted and needed to further invest in gear and save the postage cost. Second, I would either forgo the resupply boxes entirely, or ask/hire a friend in the US to help us with our mailings. Mailing those boxes across the boarder was expensive, but it was also extremely rigid. It’s difficult to predict what you’ll be sick of, or want more of. Planning and pre-making boxes means you’re going to gloss over the nuances of your needs and if you’re like me, you’ll just purchase those extra items instead and leave the things you don’t want in hiker boxes. Alternatively, Buying a TON of Knorr sides and Ramen, bringing them across the boarder, and leaving them with a friend (if they are willing) could be something to consider for next time. The postage price for this kind of intermittent resupply would be much more affordable than international shipping.
BRING MORE PERSCRIPTION DRUGS
Despite having brought as much as I thought I was needed, I ran out of my prescription drugs and ended up having to go to a walk-in to get a prescription and refill. This one experience to gain access to Wellbutrin cost me over 500$. The walk-in appointment was 150$, and the 3 month refill was around 400$. I could have less, but I didn’t want to try to find a walk-in again, or make an unexpected pop into town for this reason again. Despite having travel insurance, the deductible to claim this would have been comparable, so I chose to pay out of pocket instead. Also, for those that this matters for, contraceptives in the US is a tricky situation. I did my math wrong, and was short by 1 month for contraceptives on the trail. When I attempted to get more, not only was my method not approved, but the overturning of Roe v. Wade meant I could not have contraceptives mailed into the US. In short, I ran out of Evra (the patch); they don’t carry it, and I couldn’t have it mailed, so I just had to cease using it until my return.
The Last Half
I wish I had more to say about this. After Virginia, I felt extremely ready to be home, and kept fewer notes on my experience. it was magical and amazing, as was the rest of the trail, but for reasons mentioned above, the AT was less the AT and more just a long hike. We rarely saw other hikers (which some may like), and the whether went from exhaustingly hot, to fall in a split second. the South was beautiful, the Smokies were gorgeous, and finishing in Springer, was just as everybody said it would be: slightly anticlimactic. Having said that, I still loved every second of it, and I miss it daily. One of my highlights was meeting the Trek’s very own Oates in the Smokies just outside of Gatlinburg, TN. Such a small world. By the way, what they say about Gatlinburg is true, it is 100% “hill-billy Vegas”. The streets are packed, there’s lights and excitement, a midnight hum on the streets, and the small gimmicky things that we all know and love.
The most memorable off-trail time for me was arranging our ride from the trail to Atlanta. I love the thought of electric vehicles. Let me tell you though, it is STRESSFUL driving long distances in one, given the lack of superchargers around. We almost ran out of a charge more times than I care to admit.
Getting back into it has been difficult. It feels like your life was a bucket of water, kicked feverishly into a corner. Now that I’m back, I have to find that bucket and somehow put all the spilled water back in. Getting back into a routine with my husband has been difficult for both of us… Getting back into the routine of going to work… organizing and working on school… it’s all a challenge now that I know what life can be like without all of the other things that our society has worked so hard to provide us with. I admit, I struggle with this. I love showers, universal health care, education, and all those things our society allows us to have. It’s becoming more clear that I have to find some way to break away from the mainstream and give back to the community in a way that enables others to experience what I have experienced. I hope to maybe foster a shuttle and trail angel community here on The Island… maybe start a gear library (goodness knows I have enough!)… maybe start guiding… or trail therapy? We’ll see. All I know is that I’m extremely lucky to have experienced all the majesty and hardship that the Appalachian Trail has had to offer, and that I want to enable others to live it as well…
Also, Imma hike the CDT next… like… 2024… maybe 2025.
Check back in as I write about my Island hikes and thru-hike preparation in the meantime…
-from a resting mountain goat… named Sprite.
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