One Year Later…

It’s been one year since I set foot on Springer Mountain to begin my AT thru-hike.

Thinking back to the emotions of the first day, which ranged from euphoria to fear, I sit behind my keyboard amazed that I actually hiked 2,198.4 miles. 


March 23, 2023 to September 23, 2023

They say it’s a journey of five million steps. So, I checked my step count on my phone. Adding up all 185 days, my grand total is 4,980,337 steps. Someone (I don’t know who) did the math and figured out that hiking the entire AT has an elevation gain and loss equivalent to hiking Mt. Everest from sea level and back 16 times.

Franklin, North Carolina. One of the most welcoming trail towns on the AT.

Here are a few more numbers from my hike:

Starting from Springer, hiker #: 1,537
States traversed: 14
Pounds lost: 42
Longest stretch without a shower: 9 days
Average daily mileage: 11.8
Longest mileage day: 23 (a section of the Virginia Triple Crown)
Shortest mileage day: 5.6 (during a rainstorm in the Smokies)
Check-in at Harper’s Ferry, NOBO #: 1,020
Bear encounters: 2, both in Virginia
Rattlesnake encounters: 1, in Virginia
Copperhead encounters: 0
Other random snakes: too many to count
Nights when it snowed: 1
Nights in the 30s: 23
Family members who joined me now and then on the hike: 4
Ticks found in my tent: 3, again, in Virginia
Ticks found attached to me: 1, in Pennsylvania
Pairs of hiking shoes: 3
Check-in at Katahdin ranger station, Katahdin hiker #: 860
Days/Months on trail: 185/6

If you’re not a gear nerd, you might want to skip ahead to the post trail update below.


I changed my sleep system a few times. I started with a Hyke&Byke zero-degree down mummy bag, which lasted all the way through Damascus, VA.  I also started with a Therma-Rest Pro-Lite Apex sleeping pad, but changed out to a NeoAir XLite in Hiawassee, GA, because it was half the size and weight. Even though it sounded like a bag of chips every time I moved, that sleeping pad made it all the way to Maine.
In Damascus, I sent my heavy down bag home and picked up a King’s Canyon UL quilt. It was a little too lightweight for May, but I still had enough layers for the chilly nights. That bag made it all the way to Franconia Notch, N.H., where my husband sent me a Sierra Designs Nitro 20-degree quilt, which finished out my journey, and made me look like a flying squirrel when I stood up in it.

Thumbs up for the new sleep pad

I had the same tent for the duration, and I absolutely loved it — a Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2. Some folks looked at me like I was nuts for carrying the (little) extra weight for a 2-person tent. But, being able to keep my pack inside with me, keeping it dry and bug-free, was a luxury that made the extra ounces tolerable. A few weeks before hitting the trail, I set up the tent in my living room and used almost an entire tube of seam sealer on every seam. I believe this contributed to the fact that I had zero leaks on the entire trail, even in the worst thunderstorms. 

I snagged this primo tentsite at Pierce Pond in Maine. Big Agnes served me well for the entire journey.

One night while chilling around the campfire, a bunch of us were talking about the price of tents. When I bought mine, it was less than $400. Others had spent anywhere from $200 to $800 on their tents. We came to the conclusion that, whatever the cost, having a good quality tent that you’re happy with is worth the money. Doing the math, if I spent half of my trail nights in my tent (the other half in shelters or hostels), the monetary equivalent is $4.32 per night. If I had spent every night in my tent, it would be $2.16 per night. The next time you go on a trip, add up your hotel cost. You won’t find a hotel or hostel for that kind of money. Granted, a hotel has indoor plumbing…


My starting pair of hiking shoes were actually boots — North Face Hedgehogs. They lasted 800 miles (not including 100 miles of breaking them in before the AT), and I only gave them up because the tops were tearing up. The treads are still good. The second was a pair of Salomon MadCross. With a narrower foot box, they weren’t the right shoe for my feet, but I soldiered on for 500 miles, unwilling to shell out more money, and paid the price. A couple of toenails were lost and I experienced the only blisters I had on trail with those shoes. Nothing against the shoes — my feet just weren’t narrow enough for them.

In Delaware Water Gap, my cousin graciously purchased my final pair, Topo Ultraventures. Dang if those shoes weren’t the best ever! By the time I reached Katahdin, the tread was almost completely gone and they were close to falling apart, but they lasted me all the remaining 900 miles from DWG to mama K. 

My Topos, as compared to the footprint of a black bear.


Years ago, a friend recommended Osprey packs because of their durability and warranty. My one and only pack on the AT was my Osprey Ariel Plus 60. While others complained about their other-brand packs (straps breaking, seams ripping, etc.), I had zero problems with my pack. Osprey has a loyal customer for life.

My Osprey (and all the things clinging to it). It held everything I needed to stay alive for six months on the trail.

Post Trail Sadness and Disillusionment

I’m not disparaging the actual PTSD experienced by veterans or victims, but I’ll use the acronym to make a point. For someone who spends five or more months disassociating from the matrix, life after the trail is…odd. Strange. Disappointing. Stressful. The AT Conservancy knows this, and places pamphlets in almost every hostel along the way about how to deal with life, post-trail. 

I took photos of the pamphlet at a hostel so I could read… and re-read it.

For months after I returned to the matrix, or, real life, I dreamt of the trail every night. I looked forward to sleeping because I could be back on trail. I talked about the trail with anyone who would listen, but tried not to go overboard so people would still want to be my friend. I didn’t want to be “that guy” who never shuts up about the trail. I scrolled through the thousand-or-so photos on my phone. I messaged tramily. I listened to my journal and re-lived my adventure.

I found out that this iconic former shelter was torn down in 2023. So glad I got to see it before it was gone.

As much as I was glad to be home, as much as I love being with my husband, as grateful as I was for the experience, and as brave of a face as I could put on, I was lost. My body was at home, by my mind was climbing the Presidential Range. I was reporting for a local daily newspaper while aching to be free from the daily grind, where my only responsibility was putting one foot in front of the other and making it to camp before dark. Most of all, I miss the people who made the trail oh-so-much fun.



Finding purpose again

My adult kids joined me for an eight-mile day hike in October. Rollie (my husband’s trail name) and I went winter backpacking at a local state park in February. We will head for Trail Days in May, hiking SOBO starting just north of Grayson Highlands. We’ve signed up for a Mammoth March in Letchworth State Park in August.

Winter hiking was freaking awesome.

The point is, I get out on a trail every chance I get, and I have a few big-ish hikes planned. The responsibilities of adulthood can suck the life out of you, especially after being on trail for six months. But — don’t hate me for saying this — there’s more to life than hiking.

I have a husband who loves me enough to let me go chase my dream, and now I can spend every day with him. I have an exciting, fulfilling job. I’m more self-confident than ever, and I care less about what others think of me. My faith is stronger because the trail showed me how big my God is. I’m taking steps into my future, some of them on other trails, some not.

And, I’ll continue to blog. I’m not done talking about the AT. In fact, I’m currently about 90,000 words into the book I’m writing.

Thanks for sharing my adventure with me!

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Comments 12

  • Sheena Rader : Mar 29th

    Very interesting! Tell me the story of the guy sporting a “fig leaf”and little else! (That was a bit scary!)

    Congratulations on finishing the AT and chasing your dream! I am interested in reading your book when it is finished!

    • Carol Fielding : Mar 31st

      It was the summer solstice, aka “Naked Hiking Day.” I couldn’t believe those four went for it, with Miles (fig leaf guy) going much farther than the other three. This was in the Shenadoahs, and the weather was cold and windy — not a nice first day of summer.
      Thanks for commenting and for following my journey!

  • Bill Yeadon : Mar 29th

    Wonderful recollections.

    • Carol Fielding : Mar 31st

      Thanks, Bill.

  • Joe Parker : Mar 30th

    This post is one of the best AT summaries I have read. Thanks.

    • Carol Fielding : Mar 31st

      Thank you so much, Joe!

  • Bluewhale : Mar 30th

    I felt both the love and the nostalgia in each of your pictures. I’m looking forward to your book.

    • Carol Fielding : Mar 31st

      Thank, Bluewhale! I can’t wait to finish writing it.

  • Jeff Greene : Mar 30th

    Great stuff. I can only imagine how weird it is to re-enter society after that kind of adventure.

    • Carol Fielding : Mar 31st

      Very weird.

  • Tara : Apr 24th

    This was fun to read (as a current thru-hiker). I wonder what I’ll be reflecting on a year from now?

    • Carol Fielding : May 27th

      I can’t wait to hear about it on your YouTube channel! Anyone else who reads this, check out Wandering With Wilson on Youtube for Tara’s 2024 Thru-hike!


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