Seven Lessons I’ve Learned as I Prepare for an Appalachian Trail Thru-hike

  1. The Appalachian Trail is not flat. rocksThe idyllic winding trail of my imagination exists, but rarely, and for only a few yards at a stretch. The reality is a steep and treacherous footpath designed by someone whose definition of “trail” was apparently “rocks.”  Which leads to lesson #2:

 

  1. I’m going to fall, and it will hurt. So far during my day hikes I’ve escaped with only a few bruises and a swollen hand.  But after several falls I’ve learned that (1) I’d rather go up a rocky slope than down one, and (2) the smallest thing can lead to disaster, including taking my eyes off my feet for a second to admire the view. (Warning: never look up!)

rock formation

  1. There are snakes. I’ve only seen one so far, a harmless, six-foot black snake that didn’t bother me too much.  But apparently the rocks in Pennsylvania are riddled with them, which totally freaks me out.  The good news is that I haven’t heard of many AT hikers getting bitten.  Of course, I haven’t searched for that information, either, preferring a head-in-the-sand approach.  Even so, I’ve spent many sleepless nights worrying about how I’m going to get through those snake-infested boulder fields.  (The answer? FAST!)

 

  1. I’m not immune to hiker woes. I’ve been trying to do everything I can to avoid the physical problems that typically plague thru-hikers.  The last thing I want is to be limping along in misery for months on end.  But despite my research, and despite being careful to avoid the usual beginner pitfalls (training too hard, carrying too much weight, and wearing the wrong kind of socks), I’ve still managed to get blisters, sore muscles, and aching knees.  (Note: duct tape is a godsend!)

 

  1. Poison ivy is everywhere, and it is smart.   Seriously.  According to researchers, poison ivy not only thrives on the Appalachian Trail, but it is “auto-domesticating itself to grow in human habitats,” which includes the AT.  Really?  Poison ivy can think? As if the trail weren’t dangerous enough…

https://www.wdbj7.com/content/news/Virginia-Tech-researchers-studying-poison-ivy-along–387355221.html

hatch marks

  1. At some point, I’m going to have to do “you-know-what” in the woods. I can’t avoid it forever, no matter how distasteful it sounds.  In preparation for the big event, I’ve been researching how-to techniques (such as holding onto a tree or leaning against a log), and pondering the pros and cons of various trowels and wipes.  What I really need to worry about, though, is how to find a poison ivy-free spot! (See lesson #5.)

 

  1. It will all be worth it. Despite the challenges and dangers, every hiker I’ve met on the AT has told me the same thing.  DO IT.  They all say that thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail will be the best thing I’ve ever done.  Of course, that’s assuming I survive the snakes…beauty
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Comments 5

  • Debbie Meeks : Aug 1st

    I feel your thoughts and wondering right along with you. I am only 60 but if the economy holds tight and I get to work till retirement I will be 67 when I walk thru the AT. I am just like you—-I sit at a desk and have no outdoor skills what-so-ever. I hope you will definitely blog about your adventure as it will be a planning tool for me. Good luck and happy trailing. I anxiously await reading your blog!!!!

    Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Aug 1st

      Hi, Debbie! I wish you could do it this year so we could muddle through together. So far, I’ve coerced my husband into joining me and met two other 60+ hikers who are also planning a thru-hike next year, so at least I won’t be the only older person on the trail. Still, the odds of successfully making it seem formidable right now. I’m sure there will be plenty of low points, so I’d really appreciate your support! And hopefully, my misadventures will help you avoid my mistakes!!!

      Reply
  • Lori Portela : Aug 21st

    “The body learns what you teach it”. Start now, start slowly, teach it regularly and it will respond. Respect what it is telling you but continue to challenge you limits within good means. You will be rewarded. Test your gear regularly in all climates and weather conditions to establish what you like and don’t like about it. The more you are out there the more comfortable you will feel with the environment and your confidence. The most common thread I have read along the way with bloggers is to start at a reasonable, maintainable pace that allows you to build strength and stamina while avoiding the early hazards of a thru-hike (knee injury, tendonitis, blisters, fall). You can do this!

    Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Aug 22nd

      That’s great advice, Lori. The last thing I want is to get derailed due to injuries. I plan to test out all my equipment as soon as I have it. Hopefully it will all go well!!!

      Reply
  • Mary Blayney : Sep 10th

    My son gained twenty pounds before he hiked the trail. And lost forty. We met them halfway around Harper’s Ferry and he and his partner ate breakfast, brunch, lunch, tea, dinner and a pizza. And they were big meals . Has anyone else talked about that?

    Reply

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