Intro & 3 Considerations for Your 2021 Thru-Hike
Hiking is an addiction to the adventurist’s soul. If pathways are the veins and freedom the drug, then moving through nature is the method by which we ingest it. Chemicals are released, perspectives shift and fuse, and entire universes unfold before us.
I am one such addict, and my name is JD/ *La Loon.
In my pedestrian life, I’m a professional chef and baker, even though I’ve devoted more time this past year to wandering, writing, and painting. In early 2020, I bid my “career” adieu to hike the Appalachian Trail, determined to let nothing stop me. Fate had other plans though, most of which involved giving all of us the middle finger. Like many others, my hike got the axe, and I found myself with a lot of spare time.
With not much to keep my noggin occupied, I baked an abundance of sourdough to mitigate the heartache. Though it filled my belly, it did nothing to squash the need to search out adventure and inspiration. So by July, I had moved into an RV full time with two 100 pound dogs to do just that.
However, the desire to be on the trail persists. And as my continued unemployment has provided me a blessed indifference towards consequences, I will be back for round two in 2021. This time though, I’ll be blogging about my exploits, which I believe qualifies on some level as a responsible life choice.
WHY THRU HIKE THE A.T.?
The outdoors and I are old friends. Most of my youth involved behaving similarly to an unhinged Neanderthal as I explored the wilds of Utah. My parents endorsed this behavior and even took part. A thru-hike was an inevitable outcome after such a childhood.
And why the Appalachian Trail? While the PCT has the disagreeable habit of catching on fire, the CDT entails grizzlies.. which..just.. No. So though I’m a Neanderthal, I’m also sharp enough to understand my best shot at completing this thru-hike lies upon the Appalachian.
CONCERNS AND GOALS
Though family members believe I’ll be murdered, then consumed by a starving band of chipmunks, I’m not overly concerned with our Cheeto loving friends. My biggest worries are age and the number of hikers on the trail.
Similar to the Hindenburg, when bits on this fine fuselage break down in flames, they stay broken. Bouncing back as I did in my 20s is more fantasy than truth, even though my brain still believes I’m 19. The battle is real; though the mind is willing, the body quickly dispels such nonsense these days. Common sense tells me the A.T. won’t let me forget it either.
Body aside, the likely volume of other unemployed, pent-up people seeking escape promises to be huge. I suspect that by next year the long trails will be busier than a two-dollar trollop on nickel night. Hopefully, I’m wrong. Being part of the vast unwashed herds pummeling the A.T. come spring is not how I envisioned this journey. – Reality and the popularity of the trail have changed since Benton MacKaye first felt the pull of the wild.
Our public lands have taken a beating in the last few months. Many visitors either ignored or didn’t know the principles of Leave No Trace. The behavior has been environmentally brutal and leaves me with a challenge. How can I complete this hike without further deteriorating the trail? And how could I minimize my impact and give back? For everything the trails have given me over the years, it feels fitting I should return the courtesy in some way.
Solutions to Consider
I feel the best approach for a successful 2021 thru-hike is to consider every option, not allowing rigid expectations to impair our decisions. There are several ways we can do this. First, people can register their hike with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. This helps the ATC provide a timetable of when others have planned to start. Secondly, choosing a day/week when fewer people are starting allows the trail to look less like a rabid stampede blazed through it. In other words, it helps maintain the condition of the trail.
The third thing to consider is stepping outside our mental comfort zones and trying a SOBO, or even a flip-flop. Springer Mountain isn’t the only location a hike can start. There are literally trailheads along the entire length of the AT… crazy, I know.
Hell, go crazy yourself and do a NOBO-SOBO flip-flop! Bounce from section to section as whim dictates and enjoy the freedom that being hiker trash offers.
Flip-flopping is starting to grow on me. Think of all the people I could meet bouncing on and off along the trail! For the next few months, I’ll be looking into how to do that without spending a fortune on shuttle services and Uber. Should I find any answers I’ll pass them along in my posts.
Similar to other unhinged Neanderthals, I need equipment. And by equipment, I mean copious, stupid amounts of gear. For the sake of attention spans, mine included, I’ll get to the basic omnium-gatherum I’ll be schlepping.
Shoes: Altra. Why? Comfort. Altras are roomy and light, much like I prefer my knickers.
Clothes: Yes. Usually from thrift stores or twenty years ago, because I’m cheap, and nobody wants to see this flaming mess on Naked Hiking Day. (June 21st)
Jacket: Enlightened Equipment Torrid APEX.
Rain Gear: Jacket; undecided. Also, ULA rain kilt in a very vibrant raspberry. (There were shots of espresso involved. Things got weird.)
Tent: Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL3. It proved itself on the Pacific Northwest Trail during a biblical storm. It is my go-to.
Sleep System: EE 950-fill, 0º Revelation Quilt with a Klymit Static V insulated pad.
Backpack: ULA Circuit, Small. Purple. I enjoy color y’all.
*Trail Name. My parents were clearly less inspired.
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