5 Reasons I’ve Enjoyed My September Start to the Appalachian Trail

On the morning of Monday, September 4, I summited Mt. Katahdin in Maine.  Usually, Labor Day signals the end of summer: settling back into the routines of work and school as the weather gets colder and the days shorten.  Instead, I turned southward to begin a 2,194-mile adventure on the Appalachian Trail. Crazy, right? What am I thinking?

5 Reasons I’m Enjoying a September Start to the AT

1. The people

By the time I started in Maine, the first wave of the “bubble” of hikers who started their trek northbound (NOBO) this year in Georgia in March or early April had already finished. But there were plenty of hikers still out here. It was fun to get a taste of the more traditional AT experience, with businesses and services that cater to hikers in full swing.

For example, at my first two resupply points, I pulled up to the trailhead and another hiker was there having already called a shuttle into town — no need to hitchhike. In the 100 Mile Wilderness, my sleeping pad which had been slowly losing its internal seams started actively and noisily dying. No problem: at my first stop, Shaw’s Hiker Hostel in Monson, I had about 10 different pads to choose from to buy a new one.

I’d meant to resupply in Rangeley after that. But when I crossed ME Route 27 at 5pm and it was raining, 30 miles sooner, Jenn of the Maine Roadhouse kindly scooped me up along with the other hiker there and made a home for me for the night on the day bed in their bunkroom, even though I didn’t have a reservation and it was still peak season. I got a full resupply to last me to Gorham, NH and a charged-up phone and headlamp, a delicious blueberry pancake breakfast, and a ride from Jenn back to the trail at 8am the next morning on her mini school bus full of Nobo hikers.

Crossing into New Hampshire, the tide of hikers traveling the other way has definitely slowed. I’ve loved the bustling trail community, and I’m also happy about the shift to a more peaceful, quiet trail.

2. The (lack of) bugs

My favorite way to sleep when the weather is good: nestled in the trees, way off trail. Here in some pines near Moxie Bald Mountain, ME, in an LNT bare spot amid the moss.

I’ve heard horror stories about the mosquitoes and black flies in Maine. A few years ago, my sister day-hiked Mount Katahdin and came back covered in red welts from the latter that took months to fade away. In my opinion, nothing is more demoralizing than trudging through swarms of buzzing, biting insects.

I had a few pockets of mosquitoes at the beginning of the 100 Mile Wilderness that were easy to hike through quickly. Other than that, zero biting bugs. None. They have died off for the season. It is awesome, especially because I sleep out (cowboy camp without a tent) every night that it isn’t raining.

3. The weather, sort of

Statistically, it is much less likely to rain on me during Autumn than during a traditional thru-hike that begins in the Spring. So far, in true East Coast fashion, the weather has proven that it does not care about statistics.

One night, I got to a shelter and it was full. There was no guarantee that the next one ten miles further wouldn’t be too. So, I nestled under some pines and did my best to go to sleep. It turns out that my bivy sack, which is waterproof against the occasional midnight downpour in the Sierra, doesn’t hold up so well to the steady downpours that visit the Appalachians.

Too cold to stay asleep, I gave up trying at 2am. I dumped out the water that was in with me and moseyed up the next mountains in the dark. Definitely type 2 fun. On the days without rain though, the weather has been the most gorgeous autumn days that are a dream for hiking: not too hot, not too cold, crisp fall air.

4. Sunrises and sunsets

I live for sunrises. Watching the fanfare in the sky as the ball of the sun approaches is the best and most hopeful thing in the world. It’s what keeps me going on hard days in New Jersey, where I live and work in regular life. The silver lining to shorter daylight is that I am way more likely to be at the top of a mountain for sunrise and sunset, without having to hike at ridiculous hours.

Looking south towards Goose Eye East Peak, ME just past sunset.

5. The leaves!!!

Yellow and red are starting to tinge the green hills. Maple and birch leaves are piling up on trail, splashes of cheerful color against all the green. If I hike fast enough, I will be basking in the famous fall foliage of the Appalachians all the way to Georgia.

On a personal level, more than any place in the world, the leaf-littered trail is home. It feels and smells like cross-country meets in middle school and high school at woodsy parks outside Boston, and like raking leaves in the backyard of the house where I grew up.

In the last year and a half, I’ve been all over the place: I graduated college and left the apartment where I’d stayed the longest in one spot since high school (nine months). I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. I rented a room in a house for six months, where strangers were often in and out and I slept on a futon. Then I did a month of fieldwork in Oman, a month in Nevada, and a week in Colorado. For work, I’ve also travelled to Virginia, Massachusetts, Vermont. Recently I’ve been staying with a professor emeritus in her beautiful home, sleeping on a sofa in a sunroom full of cacti surrounded by a fairytale garden. I’m still on the move on the AT. But this motion is the most peaceful and homey place I’ve been in a very long time.

Hitting the ground running

So far, I would definitely recommend an autumn thru-hike! With the caveat that, it does require moving pretty fast to avoid getting caught in winter. I am not a fast walker — in thru-hiker terms — but I will happily walk all day, without stopping, pretty much every day, which lends itself to big miles. I have had a good amount of on and off-trail hiking recently, in addition to running 10-100 miles a week in daily life, so I was able to start out this way. Otherwise, I would allow for a little more time to build up momentum at the start, for the long mosey towards Georgia.

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Comments 22

  • Chris : Sep 20th

    Good Luck! It’ll be nice following along with you,.. and yeah,.. fall does remind me of cross country meets too.

    • Isabel Koran : Sep 20th


  • Mark aka Papa Dump : Sep 20th

    Great to see s/o starting out in a non- traditional time of year. Good luck, hope you get decent weather, and happy hiking!
    AT class of ‘22

    • Isabel Koran : Sep 20th

      Thank you, looks like the weather is going to take a turn for the better this week!

  • Brandie Dichard : Sep 20th

    It was a pleasure to meet you yesterday! I’m excited to find you here on the Trek! I will be following you in spirit! Tonsils and Pita aka Pete will be with you too!
    Safe Travels!
    Brandie D

    • Isabel Koran : Sep 20th

      Brandie!! Hi, so happy to see you here too! Thank you so so much again for making sure I was warm and safe yesterday and helping me get off Mt Washington, that was the best thing to do and I might have otherwise tried to keep going. Back out on trail today and it’s still cloudy but so much better for adventuring! Pets to Tonsils and Pete.

  • Lynn : Sep 20th

    Best of luck to you.
    Please note that the AT thru the Great Smoky Mountains National Park maybe be icy and cold when you are there. Stop by and say hello to the winter caretaker.

    • Isabel Koran : Sep 20th

      Thanks for the heads up!

  • Susan Wolcott : Sep 21st

    Will be interesting to follow. No bugs! Yay!

  • John : Sep 22nd

    Are you Smiles that had the sleeping pad that sounded like a gun being shot at Wilson Valley Lean-to? Good luck on your hike. We didn’t get a chance to wish you well on Friday morning as you were packed up and out before day light.

    • Isabel Koran : Sep 24th

      Haha yes that is me! Between my sleeping pad, and the rain and thunder, that was a rowdy night – hope you guys were able to sleep. Happy to report that the new pad I got at Shaw’s is holding up well. Thank you so much!

  • John Michael Woodrum : Sep 22nd

    As I prepare for the AT next March, it’s always good to get a variety of opinions from NOBOs and SOBOs. I will be a blogger next year, as I presently have been doing it for my daily hikes here in Colorado. But I have yet to decide on NOBO or SOBO. I will keep checking on your progress, as I wish you the best in your travels. Thank you.

    • Isabel Koran : Sep 24th

      One vote for less traditional thru-hikes from me! That is awesome that you will be a blogger next year, and kind if crazy to me – I feel like I’m just getting started on this year. And thanks!

  • John Kriz : Sep 22nd

    Very cool! I’m planning a late SOBO start next year. 🤓

    • Isabel Koran : Sep 24th

      It’s the best!

  • Don : Sep 23rd

    Looks like you are trampling pristine moss covered ground to sleep where you want. Your trail ethics are completely lacking on this account and probably others – i.e. doing end arounds , not walking through the puddles, trampling moss. Change your ways.

    • PCS : Sep 27th

      OK Karen…

    • Lee G : Sep 29th

      As long as they stay on trail, it’s ethical. People hiking the AT are well accepting of puddles. Unsure of your source for otherwise.

      Your love for the woods is appreciated, but please recognize spreading false information/gatekeeping such as ’you can’t walk on new moss on the trail’ makes people think LNT is ‘impossible’ and then disregard the practice entirely. Hiking on a trail, which is indeed still done by day hikers in many “off season” sections, is completely ethical and fine.

      Best of luck, Smiles!

    • Easy Rider : Sep 29th

      Crawl back in your shell you dirty snail…

  • Dogwood : Sep 29th

    Wonderful account of gratitude Isabel.

  • Tim : Sep 30th

    Isabel will you also be posting any updates on any other social media plarforms I’d like to fallow along as you know the few hikers I’ve followed have either finished or their on the last miles of completing there NoBo trip I’d like to keep up with yours as well future NoBo my self


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