Seven Ways I’m Preparing for My Thru-Hike Attempt

In 35 days I’ll officially start my AT thru-hike attempt. After years of anticipation and preparation, it is hard to believe that in a little over a month I’ll actually be hitting the trail. In my previous posts, I’ve shared some information about the who (me), what (thru-hike), when (early April), where (on the AT), and why (cause I want to!) of my hike. Today, I’ll be diving into the how. Specifically, I’ll be talking about how (and how not) I’ve chosen to get ready for the trail. Keep on reading to hear seven things I’m doing to prepare (and three things I’m not).

Saving Money

Saving money to hike and live in a tent? It might not make much cents, but there are a surprising number of costs that go along with hiking a long-distance trail. As I hike, I’ll need to be able to pay for food, laundry, showers, and the occasional hotel. I’ll also need to pay for all my off trail expenses that don’t go away, even if I’m hiding in the woods (blasted student loans!). Plus, I’ll need to have some contingency money just in case my gear fails or I get sick or hurt. Running out of money is a fairly common reason that folks have to get off of the trail. I hope that by planning ahead and saving, my wallet won’t decided when my hike ends.

Choosing Gear

The green, red, or yellow rain jacket?

If I told you to go through your house and pick out everything that you were going to use for the next six months and put it in a backpack right now, you’d straight up say no. But alas, this is the task I’m charged with before I begin my thru-hike. Since I have some experience backpacking, I have a pretty good idea of what works for me. But there are still a lot of decisions to be made. Do I take the 45-liter backpack or the 60? Should I take an 11-degree sleeping bag or a 35-degree sleeping bag? Do I take the tiny hairbrush that weighs an ounce or the regular size hairbrush that will actually keep my hair from turning into a giant dreadlock?

Quitting My Job

This is a big one. Before hitting the trail, figuring out the work situation is pretty tricky. On one hand, you’re trying to save money for your upcoming adventure, but, on the other hand, you need to take some indeterminate amount of time off. For me, I made the choice to leave my job last June. As a teacher (and a teacher of very tiny humans for whom consistency is crucial), I did not want to or feel comfortable leaving a class midyear. So I left my job at the end of the 2017-2018 school year. Since then, I have spent these nine months of “limbo” time working as a long-term substitute teacher in two classrooms. I was really nervous about this choice, but it has turned out to be one of the most positive, most empowering choices I’ve ever made.

Preparing My Body

Training in the snow!

A lot of people say that the only way to train for a thru-hike is to do a thru-hike. So, at this point, I have literally no idea if what I am doing to prepare physically will be at all beneficial when I actually hit the trail. That said, I’m going to share anyway. I have been focusing on improving my cardiovascular endurance, building my stabilizing muscles, and my flexibility. I try to get outside to walk, hike, or snowshoe whenever possible, but Wisconsin winters don’t always make that easy. When outside isn’t an option, I hit the gym and walk on the treadmill at max incline. It might not be a lot, but I figure something is better than nothing.

Preparing My Mind

The AT is certainly as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. There will be long stretches of rain, never-ending climbs, and countless other challenges on the trail. I want to make sure that I’m ready to keep on hiking in the face of any obstacle. One thing I’ve been doing to prepare is really savoring my anticipation. Anytime I’m struggling on trail, I’ll remember how much I could not wait to get out there. Another thing is remembering that there is literally no pressure in a thru-hike attempt. I turned my life upside down to do this hike, and I already feel like the benefits have outweighed any cost (and I haven’t even set foot on trail yet). While I fully intend to make it to Katahdin, I’m already so proud of myself for trying, that it doesn’t really matter how far I make it.

Taking Care of Business

Before I hit the trail, I’m taking care of all the “business” that I can. Getting as much boring, adult stuff out of the way before I head out will allow me to keep my focus on the trail. This includes setting up auto-pay on anything that will allow it, doing my taxes, and squaring away health insurance (no job makes health insurance a little trickier). I’m also lucky to have people in my life who are willing to help me out with some of these things. My parents are letting me park my car in their driveway (and driving it every once in a while), and my boyfriend will be looking after our apartment (and caring for our many plant babies).

Saying Goodbyes

Some pretty amazing goodbye cards.

I have never been one to get homesick, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss those I care about when I’m away. As I said goodbye to my kiddos and fellow teachers at the end of my last-long term substitute job, I realized that saying proper goodbyes is very important. First, saying good-goodbyes allows me to spend quality time with friends and family. Second, goodbyes are such a good reminder of all of the amazing support that I have. I will definitely never feel alone on trail thinking about all the people rooting for me at home.

With all that said, there are some things I have decided not to do to prepare. Keep reading to hear where I’ve decided to forgo planning ahead.

Making an Itinerary

When I plan a short backpacking trip, I always make an itinerary. I lay out what I’m seeing each day and where I’ll be sleeping each night. On the AT, this just doesn’t make sense for a lot of reasons. First, I have no idea how many miles I’ll be able to hike in a day. Some days it may be 20, some days ten, and some days two. Second, I want to approach my hike with some amount of spontaneity. Maybe I’ll want to take a random zero day or head into a cool trail town. And third, the AT is just way too long to plan out where I’ll be every day. I do have an idea of where I’ll resupply on food on my fourth and eighth days, and some loose estimations of where I’ll be farther down the trail, but that’s it.

Sending Resupplies

What if I decide I want Doritos instead of Tostitos?

Some folks choose to send themselves resupply boxes of food to towns along the trail. This allows their town stops to be quick and efficient. All they have to do is get to the post office and back. As convenient as sending these boxes sounds, I have decided not to take this approach. Instead, I’ll be buying my food at grocery stores, dollar stores, and gas stations along the way. I might end up spending a little more money, but I’ll be able to buy what I want to eat when I want it. Plus, I don’t have to pack up all those boxes ahead of time.

Choosing Clothes (Yet)

Recently, I was trying to pick out what to wear for the start of my hike. I checked out some monthly weather averages for Georgia. They basically said it could be anywhere from freezing to tropical. Alright, I thought, I’ll shoot for the middle. What would I wear on a 45-degree hike? Then I realized that, after this seemingly never-ending, frigid Wisconsin winter, I couldn’t even imagine what 40 degrees might feel like. Sometimes I feel overly eager to get everything ready for this hike. But I’ve decided that rather than spend time and money on clothes now, I’ll wait until my start date is a little closer and I have a better idea of what conditions will actually be like.

As always, thanks for reading. If you are hiking this year, what are you doing to prepare? Is there anything I should add to my plan?

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Comments 10

  • Avatar
    Bill Luckett : Mar 3rd

    I live in the north end of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and while I have occasionally thought about hiking the AT, in reality it is not something that I want to give several months to accomplishing.
    That being said, I wish you a safe journey and many spectacular moments as you travel the path to Mt. Katahdin.
    I also hope you have great weather and good health.
    Best always,
    Bill

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Katy Amphlett : Mar 4th

      Thanks, Bill!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Deb Lingford : Mar 4th

    Hi Katy! Fellow Wisconsinite here attempting a Flip-Flop Thru Hike starting the end of April. It’s certainly been a challenge to train during this tough winter! You do what you can, right? I’ve been taking my pack with me to the gym to wear it while walking the treadmill. Good luck to you! (40 degrees is going to feel warm! )

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Katy Amphlett : Mar 4th

      Yes! I’ll be adding the pack to my treadmill walks soon! I hope you have a great hike!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Ruth Morley : Mar 4th

    It sounds like you have thought through a lot of preparations.

    But may I also suggest doing a lot of core work and foot/ankle strengthening? If you have access to a Bosu ball, those are great for one-legged balancing, on the rounded, squishy side. Planks and other Pilates or yoga moves are super for preparing your body for the endless hours carrying and putting on and taking off a loaded pack.

    I also strongly suggest standing for 1 minute on one foot at a time on a small relatively firm ball to stretch the fascia on the bottom of your feet. Do this now and take the ball on the trail (well worth it’s weight) to do this at least once a day, if not twice. Plantar fasciitis is one of the top injuries and hike-enders out there. Spoken from experience.

    Good luck!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Katy Amphlett : Mar 4th

      Great suggestions! I’ve seen folks using the Bosu ball at the gym but never tried it myself. Thanks!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Milk Thompson : Mar 4th

    Thanks for a great post Katy. Love the “cents” joke. I know it might be different for different people, but any guidelines on how much to save for the trail for just on-trail expenses?

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Katy Amphlett : Mar 6th

      Thanks for the comment, Milk! I’d aim for $1,000 a month for on trail expenses and $1,000 for contingency. Plus, take into account any off trail things (rent, loans, chocolate syrup…) you’ll need to continue paying while you’re gone!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Joanne : Mar 5th

    Love that you feel proud of yourself for just trying. I felt the same way. It is huge and scary just to prepare for taking 6 months off. Enjoy your adventure!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Katy Amphlett : Mar 6th

      Thanks, Joanne!

      Reply

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