Research Completed, and I Still Have Questions

Hey there, Julia here. I decided in the fall of 2018 that I absolutely needed to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, and I needed to do it in 2019.

(Quick summary of why I’m hiking… I’m turning 30 in 2019, 2018 was a huge year of growth, and I love being outside.)

“Wow Julia, that doesn’t seem like enough time to really plan a successful thru-hike. Many people spend the better part of a year planning,” is what you’re thinking, and you’re correct. Many people do spend months and months planning their thru-hike. However, I am not most people. This may be a good thing or a terrible thing. We will soon find out.

Five months is not a lot of time to completely upend my life and go for a walk in the woods for six months. I did manage to list and sell my house in three days. I convinced my boss at work, where I work as a registered nurse, to give me a temporary six-month leave of absence. I started the conversation with many family members and friends about what I planned to do, and received nothing but overwhelming support.

The Real Planning Started

Now that all the big stuff was accomplished, I started researching for my trip. I started reading books, anything with Appalachian Trail in the title. This is where I learned about Zach Davis and The Trek. If you didn’t already know, Zach wrote a book called Appalachian Trials.

So, I talked with other thru-hikers, I read their books, I talked to anyone who had any advice to offer, and some was great, while some was not. I gathered my lists, and purchased my gear, which was very stressful. There are tons of brands out there to choose from.

I downloaded the Guthook app; I practiced setting up my camping gear, packed-unpacked-and-repacked my pack over and over. I felt prepared.

Questions I Still Have

It’s now that I am within my 80 window of actually heading south to Amicalola Falls State Park, things  are starting to get real.

And I still have some questions. Bear with me now…

I’ve read the literature on getting to that first white blaze, but I don’t want to hit the trail and find myself still ill-prepared, or looking like an idiot in front of my new hiking friends/acquaintances.

If it starts raining, is there a fast or effective way to set up my tent, possibly with the rain fly pre-attached to prevent water from flooding through the mesh top?

Do I bury my toilet paper in the woods after, ya know, doing my daily fertilization? With Leave No Trace, how does that work? Do I really have to pack out my soiled TP?

Is there special toilet paper that I need?

What’s the best treatment for a blister? Popping or leaving alone? Can I prevent blisters?

Do I need a gun? Do I need bear mace? Do I need people mace? How much protection is enough? Does karate count? Wait, I don’t know karate.

How am I supposed to update this blog? Am I expected to take a computer with me? Are there still such things as cyber cafes? Wait, I have a cellphone, surely I can update from there… or can I?

Will I have cell service everywhere? Will I be able to inform my family of my daily safety?

Do I have too much stuff? Am I missing anything?

Will I make the 2,190 miles to Katahdin?

Can I really walk in the woods with everything I need on my back for six months?

Does Any of It Matter?

I’m sure this list could go on for days, but that is not the point. The point is that I may have many questions left unanswered, but the glorious thing is that they will be answered on the trail!

Life is a learning curve and I’m sure the trail is no different. I really want to focus on being completely present during my days on the AT. I hope that I can enjoy every day, or at least parts of every day, and when I reach Katahdin, I also hope that I am a new person, rattled to my core and rewired. I know I will be, but I cannot wait to see who that woman is on the other side.

Cheers friends,

Julia

 

 

 

 

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Comments 15

  • Mr Maps : Dec 27th

    Congrats on taking the leap of faith…..you won’t regret it…..and you will come back a changed & rewired person, that I can promise!

    Reply
    • Moo : Dec 29th

      Don’t over think it. I’ll see you out there.

      Reply
  • Ruth Morley : Dec 27th

    Answers will come to you as you hike, but here are some easy ones for now:

    TOILET PAPER: what I do is take a partial roll of double ply, remove the cardboard cylinder in the center, pull out the end from the center like a little tail, for better controlling runaway TP, squish the roll as flat as possible, put it in a quart sized ziplock (the best brand for everything), along with another folded quart sized ziplock for the used paper (and maybe used feminine products? I don’t know about this. Happily post menopause.). If rain is possible, I use 2 ziplocks. When putting the used TP into its own ziplock, try to fold the soiled part to the inside for less mess in the bag. It’s best to take the used TP with you so animals don’t dig it up. Buy another roll when running low at a hostel or buy a 4-pack and be nice and share. Don’t steal from hostels or cafes. Let’s be good reps of our breed.

    Tie a designated half bandana (2 opposite corners trimmed off to save weight) to your backpack and use as a wipe after going #1. Or drip dry. But try to keep your undies clean, to avoid as much odor as possible. I use wool undies, which helps a lot.

    UPDATING BLOG: Yes, you can do it from your phone. At least, I can do it with my iPhone. But it takes a lot of time getting the photos in there, the longer your blog is. Do a practice post at home with your phone, including photos. Maggie Slepian is there to answer email questions at [email protected]. Re: phone service, I switched from AT&T to Verizon after my shakedown hike in 2017. Verizon has the best reception on the AT, but don’t expect to have it work more than 30% of the time when in the trail or at shelters.

    For other questions, check out whiteblaze.net. Lots of great info there. I also like sectionhiker.com (?).

    Enjoy the process! It’s fun learning new things.

    Reply
  • Evan Ravitz : Dec 28th

    Blisters are called by friction heat buildup in your shoes. If your feet are strong enough to hike in sandals, you won’t get blisters. Practice hiking in sandals with a pack before you go. Or at least use shoes that are partly open or mesh. And if your feet do get hot, stop and soak them in a stream.

    Reply
  • Pony : Dec 28th

    Hey, Julia. I envy you, having the AT experience in front of you! I hope you have a blast.

    I’m going to respond to a bunch of your questions, if that’s all right. As always, I’m just one person, but this is what I’ve learned in my long-distance hikes (including the AT in 2016):

    First, five months is *plenty* of time to plan. Honestly? The planning is great, and can be a lot of fun, but the truth is, the second you set foot on the trail, all the planning in the world will recede in the face of actual experience. Pack weight? Your body will tell you if you’ve got too much, or you’ll know if you’ve left something out you need. Calories? Your body will let you know how much to eat (and you’ll still lose weight, if you get to Katahdin/Springer/wherever you plan to finish).

    Not commenting on setting up a tent in the rain, but rain in general: You are going to be wet. You will get rained on. You will sweat out from the inside. In my experience, there is *no* rain gear that is actually going to keep you dry in a torrent, so frankly, you’re as well off spending $20 on Frogg Toggs as you are on a $550 Arcteryx jacket. Also, you cannot outsmart/outrun the weather, and if you try, it’s going to annoy the f*** out of you.

    Packing out TP is a great idea, and seriously, not a problem in the least. Once you get used to it, it’s just another part of life on the trail, The second half of my AT hike I packed out all my TP and it just went into the garbage bag, easy as pie.

    Blisters: I highly recommend bringing along some Leukotape. You have to buy a whole roll, but you can wrap up yards of the stuff around toothbrush, medicine bottle, chap-stick, etc. This stuff is a miracle worker for preventing hotspots from becoming blisters and protecting blisters once you have one.

    The vast majority of hikers will tell you not to bring a gun or bear spray. Think about the gun for a moment: Unless you packed it on your hip, it’s going to be stored away inside your pack, and in the *extremely * unlikely instance that someone was threatening you — IMO, you are safer on the trail than in any city, and usually you have a community of people around you to protect you — what would you do? Unshoulder your pack and root around for the weapon while your would-be assailant stand politely by? Others disagree, but the vast majority of hikers will say it’s unnecessary weight that you will never, ever need or use. Re bear spray: If you are fortunate, you will see bears — it’s a highlight! Leave the bear spray at home, but be smart and hang (really hang properly; don’t dangle a bag 7 feet off the ground on a spindly sapling, which is frankly what most people do. Or use some kind of system, an Ursack or canister, to prevent bears from sniffing out your food. But the truth is, bear danger on the trail is insanely exaggerated.

    Re cell phone and blog updating: You’ll have intermittent coverage for most of the trail. Different people have successfully documented their entire hike on YouTube or blogs, so it’s eminently doable.

    Have too much stuff? Don’t worry! Your body is going to tell you, in short order, if it thinks your pack is too heavy, and you’ll know if you’ve left out something vital (say, a winter hat in a cold, snowy spring).

    Will you make it? Approximately 75% do not. My recommendation, seriously, is that you read Zach Davis’ excellent book, “Appalachian Trials.” Zach is the founder of this site, but for my money, that book is the most down-and-dirty, honest account of the *true* challenges you will face along the trail, many of them mental or emotional. Then, you know, you’ll make it if you make it. Don’t quit on a bad day or at the end of the day. Sleep on it before bailing, is my advice.

    Many thousands of people have walked 2,190 miles from Georgia to Maine (or Maine to Georgia; or Harpers Ferry to Maine, then Harpers Ferry to Georgia … you get the idea) in six months, carrying all they need on their backs. If this is a thing you take to, a thing you love, despite the very real suffering you will do, I suspect you’ll know within the first 100 miles.

    Have fun, and I look forward to reading about your adventures.

    ~Pony (AT’16; CT’15; Foothills Trail ’18; Pinhoti Trail ’18)

    Reply
  • Pony : Dec 28th

    P.S. I have recently done more hiking in very minimalist sandals (Xero brand) and have been very surprised how much I like it.

    Reply
  • Chris G. : Dec 28th

    Q:

    Do I bury my toilet paper in the woods after, ya know, doing my daily fertilization? With Leave No Trace, how does that work? Do I really have to pack out my soiled TP?

    A:

    Please pack your TP out. Just carry an extra ziplock. Its not that bad just dispose of it properly in town. You technically can bury it but its really A LOT better to pack it out and prevents animals from digging it up if its buried too shallow. Theres nothing worse than walking down the trail and seeing unburied TP.

    Reply
  • Dee Dauphinee : Dec 29th

    Julia,

    Paahhleese take a compass with you (learn how to use it first if you don’t already) and tune into your “special awareness” on the trail.

    And then have fun!!

    Dee

    Reply
    • Julia : Dec 29th

      Dee, thank you! Thankfully I’ve got a compass, and know how to use it! How are can it be to stay facing north? Hahahaha xoxo!

      Reply
      • Therese : Dec 31st

        Although you may be NOBO, the AT has been known to travel south, west and east!! Be aware of the actual direction you’re heading in various sections.

        Reply
        • Fran : Jan 2nd

          And that is true!

          Reply
  • EarthTone : Dec 29th

    Here are my my answers to your questions. They are worth what you paid for them.

    I’m a hammocker so I can put my tarp up first then put the hammock up underneath. I don’t really know what you ground dwellers do, but I know some tents do have that function where you can erect the rain fly first.

    I always bury my used TP in the cat hole and don’t plan on ever packing it out. I’m real good at brown blazing though, so I don’t have to dig a lot of cat holes. I do pack out all my used wet wipes, even when I use a privy. (Brown Blazing: properly planning your bowel movements to be able to use a privy or actual flush toilet. Also, going out of your way to use one of these facilities)

    No. Any TP will do.

    It depends on the blisters size, location and discomfort level. The leukotape suggestion is a good one. It’s real sticky, protects well and stays on long.

    No gun, no bear spray, but a small canister of pepper spray for the two legged bears may bring peace of mind.

    Your phone is a wonderful tool. I consider mine my most versatile piece of gear.

    No you will not have cell phone service everywhere, no matter who your service provider is. You get used to it. I was able to send a text most every day, but there are some places where that isn’t possible. You can use the Spot thingie or some other satellite locator device. The extra weight is usually worth your love ones’ peace of mind. They should also be able to use it to find your body. (jk) 🙂

    Yes, you will probably have too much stuff. The great thing about the AT is you can be constantly adjusting what you are carrying (adding or subtracting) as you go along. Eventually you will get it to how you want it.

    Will I make the 2,192 miles to Katahdin? – It doesn’t matter. Your Adventure will be as long as it needs to be. Enjoy it as it happens. If you get all the way, great. If not, you still got out there and had that Adventure.

    Can I really walk in the woods with everything I need on my back for six months? – Yes

    Good luck. Keep finding ways to have fun and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

    EarthTone

    Reply
    • Mike : Dec 29th

      Love, love, love this answer: “Will I make the 2,192 miles to Katahdin? – It doesn’t matter. Your Adventure will be as long as it needs to be. Enjoy it as it happens.” What a great piece of advice!

      Reply
    • Julia : Dec 29th

      This was so very kind. Thank you for your answers. I’m happy to have your advice! Xoxox Julia!

      Reply
  • Don't Care : Dec 31st

    Congratulations on a good start. IMO, you do not need a gun. Effective firearms are heavy, and if everything goes as planned, you will not use it. You will soon get rid of anything you are not using. Hikers are careful about statistics, and we pay attention. You are in the most danger from falling down and injuring yourself. More weight makes this more likely. GSI makes a handy little knife, which you can hold onto at night when you hear that grizzly/t rex/serial killer outside your tent, and it will make you feel better. Also handy for slicing cheese and opening wrappers, which is what you will actually use it for. Verizon has the best service on the trail, but it’s still kinda sketchy. In New England, you will only have service on the mountain tops, where you can see for fifty miles, without a cell tower in sight. I don’t know why. I carried a Garmin inreach explorer. Loved it. Don’t worry about too much planning. I planned for thirty years, didn’t help much. Had to forget most of what I knew to be current. You got this.

    Reply

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