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.


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.

The Aftermath

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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Comments 5

  • Seadog : Nov 15th

    Hi Mountain Goat, I really enjoy reading about your adventures. And I really appreciate all the details you give. We need to rely on others to be successful in life and so thank you for your great advice. I am an avid backpacker myself. The longest thru hike I’ve done is the Foothills Trial, a 77 mile national scenic trail in SC. It was amazing while it crosses five rivers. So after that I really caught the bug to hike the AT. I live in the foothills in SC so it seemed only logical to go NOBO from Amicalola, but now because of a recent encounter with AT thru hikers I’m in doubt. I was vacationing at “Hillbilly Vegas”, I love that and so true and I wanted to take the family up to see Clingmans Dome. Oh but secretly I just wanted to touch the AT. That’s where I met the thru hikers, they were resting and drying out. They were gracious and answered my many questions however they agreed that if they did it over they would flip-flop. I didn’t see that coming and now I’m struggling with a decision. Do I join the NOBO bubble at Springer or do I start NOBO at Harpers Ferry and then return there to finish SOBO? I didn’t really get their reasoning other than maybe just to have better weather, but I’m sure in their experience they have concluded it to be a better option. You’ve made some good and reasonable points against doing a flip-flop. So my questions are this: just how expensive was it to get back to your starting point and what mode did you use to get back; how much of an inconvenience did you really have due to seasonal hospitality closures; were you able to find a tramily to connect with after you went SOBO or after having gained so much experience was it that big a deal?
    Thank you!, Seadog

    • Mountain Goat : Nov 15th

      Hi, Seagod! Thanks so much for your kind words!!! To answer your questions:
      Cost of the flop: we rented a car and split it 5 ways, which ended up being about 130/person plus 2tanks of gas… I think. We also stayed with a tramily member for a few days before embarking south which cut our costs. I imagine that could have been more expensive. I think the biggest added cost had to do with the lack of hiker box scavenging. Food prices is the US are now close to Canadian, but with the american dollar, which was something we hadn’t anticipated.
      Inconvenience: it really just took more time to find hostels and shuttle drivers as more people were closed and sometimes they charged a small premium for operating out of peak season. The real inconvenience truly was in trail overgrowth. Literal bush whacking through brambles was very difficult for me.
      Tramily: first, dont make the mistake we made. We didnt know the flip flopper festival existed so we started a bit late from it… Plan to stay in HF for the festival and leave after so you can meet people. Next, have an open itinerary so you can choose to hang back with slower folks that you like. Our tramily was made up of 6 of us and we only found eachother and solidified in Maine… So it was very short lived. One was called back to the real world after Katahdin, one needed time to rest his knees, and another started in NY instead of WV so they didn’t join us for the flop. So it was me smugness and fallout going south. We crossed one other flip flopper occasionally who we eventually passed for good but no new tramily members.
      The case for a tramily: i genuinely had a better time in maine than the rest of the trail. We made family meals in town, skinny dipped in lakes, gathered round the camp fire, and just had a lot of fun. I really missed the full tramily and still do. But thats me…
      The nobos: troubles with being a part of the bubble have to do with weather and logistics from what ive been told. If youre in the bubble, finding room at a shelter can be next to impossible and when you need to hop into town to dry off, expect everybody else will too. That means contingency planning is necessary… Which im not super into. Additionally, the early start nobos said they had really good weather, save a snow storm or two, and had to endure a couple cold nights in april through PA with us. Conversely, We felt like we were chasing spring all the way to maine and didnt get those summer vibes until around the Whites.

      The flip flop was a great way to do it, but the tramily thing ended up being so lovely that i really wish i would have had more of it… Which is obviously remedied by at starting the right time. The other other thing to consider is that there is still attrition. Although flip floppers are the most successful (% wise), attrition is still big. When there arent many of you to start, 60% dropping out doesnt really leave many.

      I hope this provides some clarity. Feel free to ask more questions!!!

      • Seadog : Nov 18th

        Hello again Mountain Goat,
        Thanks for your insight and tips! You said feel free to ask questions; well I’m going to pick your brain so here you go.
        I know what you mean about the brambles. I’ve encountered them several times and had to whack them down to get past their razor sharp thorns, very annoying.
        Was it necessary to bring any sort of trail publications, guide or maps? The trek web site has a nice interactive Google Map of the AT, but other than that and my Garmin Mini would you recommend anything?
        Is carrying cash important or is it sufficient to rely on a card.
        Can you talk about your shoes, I would say it ranks at the top and slightly above sleep system. I’ve been using the Lone Peak 6 shoe and I love how comfortable they are and how quickly they dry, however they fail when it comes to traction on wet surfaces. So I was looking at the Olympus 5 since it looks to have a more aggressive and wider Vibram sole.
        Tell me about your on-trail personal shelter. I would like to rely on my personal shelter as much as possible, the idea of sleeping in a close pack e.g. shelters, doesn’t sound appealing especially in regard to health.
        The choices for tents are daunting. I’m trying to decide between a single wall or double wall, one or two person, which concerns as you know weight, footprint, and condensation issues. From what I see and read I’m not very impressed with the expensive dyneema, it seems that most companies are using some form of sil nylon. The extremes in price level of ultralight tents just seem to be splitting hairs with weight. I can’t help but think that for most of the AT’s life there’s been no such thing as “ultralight”. So what type of personal shelter did you see most widely used?
        What’s your thoughts on food storage. I know there’s complacency out there in food storage. I totally know that bears are in need of food, just like we are. What method of storage did you find most effective; Ursack, Cannister, Odor proof bag, Hang?
        How much wildlife did you see?

        Thank you, Seadog

        • Mountain Goat : Nov 19th

          Thanks! I love the questions!
          Publications, guides or maps: The trail is incredibly well marked. in 98% of cases, walking off the trail feels like departing a sidewalk. There are a few exceptions where a particularly beaten in elk trail can make you stray off track… but in my experience, you knew pretty quickly when to backtrack. I didn’t see a need for maps at all. Farout is an invaluable tool. It’s an app that costs about 70$ CA… and… wow… It’s a GPS, a social platform, a yellow pages… it’s everything… We used it every day. I HIGHLY recommend it. the function to add comments allows you to have up to date information from other hikers on environmental conditions, such as water source viability, safety concerns, shuttle numbers, and much more. If you’re averse to having your phone, lots of people carried AWOL’s guide and liked it. I didn’t want to carry a book though, but to each their own! (BTW, people will give you mixed feedback on this, but I WOULD carry a garmin mini. There were far more places where we had absolutely no phone service than I was comfortable with)
          Cash: MY GOODNESS… I had no idea how important carrying cash was in the US. So many little gas stations and small town suppliers are cash only. carry cash for sure.
          Shoes: I hear you… I had the olympus 5 for a bit and their traction on wet surfaces paled in comparison to the Hoka Speedgoats that I had previous. The olympus 5 was my last shoe and they seemed to get the job done, but I was really disgruntled with the fact that it started falling apart after about a week of use. Hoka ONE ONE speedgoat was very popular on the trail, and I will be returning to them. They have a very minimal heel drop (not quite 0 though), wide soles, high stack for cushion, and they stick to everything!
          Shelter: I agree. We used a Zpacks DupleXL and were completely underwhelmed with it. We found that it severely underperformed in rain and you had to be very careful with it. If you press on the walls of the bathtub floor, you have the opportunity to actually push the floor out past the cover of the “roof” of the tent, which turns your bathtub floor into a collecting point for all of the water. Not to mention, in hard rain, we got LOTS of back splash coming in the tent near the corners. We switched to a Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL3 tent. It was amazing. a bit heavier, but we were never wet, and the liveability was great! I also really loved my hammock setup and found it kept me dryer than ever. (ENO siltarp, ENO double nest, Helios whoopie straps, guardian SL bugnet, and underquilt). as for commonality, we saw LOTS of Nemo tents (Dragonfly and hornet), LOTS of Big Agnes (Copper Spur HV UL, and Tiger Wall), and lots of Zpacks (Duplex and Soloplex). Condensation wasn’t an issue in any of the tents, except for when we camped on grass. We did hear some issues from people with the Tiger Wall, in that the fly doesn’t have a vent.
          Food Storage: So, this is tough… I saw all methods, an none are truly perfect… There’s LOTS of convenience when it comes to the bear can: they’re recommended by the ATC, and they’re easy… just plop it down somewhere away from the shelters… they’re heavy though and take up lots of space in your pack. Bear hangs are really great, but you have to know how to do it properly for it to work (look at the PCT method)… finding a good tree for it is actually super difficult in some cases. The trees are often “Y” shaped instead of “T” shaped… So, if you want simplicity and reliability, go with the bear can in my opinion… If you’re looking for UL, go with the hang… as for the Ursack, I didn’t see many of them and I know there are lots of mixed opinions as to how effective they are. Use a smell proof bag when you can to help.
          Wildlife: we only saw 2 bears, but tons of other wildlife… ironically, the deer near the Priest were incredibly intrusive. We experienced far more issues with mice than anything else, but I think it’s because we were diligent about quality bear hangs.

          Hope this helps! P.S, I wrote a lot more in depth about these various pieces in my other blog posts if you wanted to check them out 🙂

          -a Mountain Goat named Sprite!


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