T-Minus 172 Days – The Tortoise and the Hare

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Read any article or blog about starting out as a newbie thru-hiker, and almost unanimously the advice will be to slow your roll.  I’d agree that is solid wisdom for the uninitiated. As a flip-flopper, I’m cautioned in particular not to try to trail a NOBO who has weeks of conditioning behind them.  Fair enough. I’m not planning to chase the 25-mile-a-day folk.  But how slow is too slow?

Against all advice, I’ve begun mapping out my first week. I know, I know, weather or injury or zombie apocalypse could derail my plan, but there is peace of mind I have in knowing approximately where I’ll be and roughly when I’ll take my first shower.  (Confession? I’ve done this for my second week as well.)

The Beginner’s Lowdown

For my 50-something followers, here’s what I have tentatively planned for week one. I don’t think it’s too ambitious. Perhaps not ambitious enough? (Coming out of Harpers Ferry.)

Day one: 6.2 miles

Day two: 4.1 miles (figure I’ll be sore)

Day three: 6.8 miles

Day four: 7.4 miles

Day five: 11.4 miles

Day six: 5 miles + shower+ resupply + hostel!

Week one total: 40.9, averaging 6.8 miles/day

I figure once hiker hunger sets in, six days without a resupply or restaurant would be unrealistic.  Early on, I think I can go that far between resupplies. Especially since on day one I’ll be coming out of town on a full stomach.

Adjusting to Poles

I’ve never hiked with trekking poles before. My previous backpacking was ten years ago, before my knees and balance began showing signs of aging. I’m concerned the addition of poles to my stride, with the accompanying upper body exertion, will exhaust me more quickly than I anticipate. I’ve already purchased poles and will begin training with them, but the flatlands of Illinois and the trail will be two very different experiences.  I’m wondering if I need to take poles into account and scale back my week one estimates?

If your advice is anything other than “start slow, take it easy,” I’d like to hear your experience, and how you successfully approached the trail.

If the Hare Wore Snowshoes

I hear a lot of advice about boots vs. trail runners.  I had pretty much sold myself on trail runners—until I read more about the infamous Pennsylvania rocks.  And Pennsylvania is the state I will hit first, after a quick jaunt through Maryland.  I fear not having rugged enough footwear to weather the terrain, but also fear starting off with unnecessary footwear weight slogging me down. Do all you hares wear trail runners?

Image via Creative Commons

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Comments 7

  • Pete (Smokestack) Buak : Nov 6th

    Your 1st week is a great plan. Take it slow and easy. Let your body tell you when to go longer. Poles are a must!

  • Tess : Nov 6th

    Trail runners versus hiking boots: I grew up hiking in the Dolomites & Alps and hiking boots were the standard. Later on I owned trail runners, but for the yearly hiking tour in alpine regions it was still my boots….. until I hiked the Camino (here you really don’t need boots). I was wearing boots and it was a huge mistake: my right foot was just not happy with the additional weight (my left foot did not have any issues….my left leg being my stronger one). I had to switch to my running shoes to finish the trail (I was definitely not an ultralight backpacker ;-)). The last three years I tested trail runners and my boots on our yearly hiking tour. I have no ankle problems and my trail runners performed as well as my boots. Therefore the decision is made for me: I’ll wear trail runners for my thru hike attempt of the AT…My “added” weight needs to be as “light” as possible as I’m on the “skinny” site and my right foot is just not happy if I add to much weight over longer periods.

    • DD : Nov 6th

      First, I am a hare for the most part. Started with 17 miles a day in GA and was up to 25+ a day by VA. But I trained hard for my hike because I didn’t want my body to get in my way of enjoying the experience. My first suggestion, get your body and mind right, and the gear doesn’t matter as much.

      I started in mid-top boots, went to hiking shoes, and finally pulled my head out of my rear in VA. Went to trail runners and will never go back. All of the reasons people (and me as well when I started) say they wear boots are not valid IMO. Ankle stability (not really), keep feet dry (then you haven’t hiked very long on the AT). Trail runners allow you to move your feet much faster which WILL come in to play countless times a day as you trip/slide/stumble and you need to catch yourself through speedy foot movements. Boots equal more falls IMO. For everyone who claims they have weak ankles…then go on YouTube and find out how to strengthen your ankles.

      I hope you find success and enjoy it as much as I did out there. Train hard = enjoy hard.

  • dale : Nov 18th

    I m also flip flopping late April, starting maybe right after the festival in Harpers Ferry. I’m Vlogging it (dales outdoor adventures) maybe I will get to meet you. Best wishes in your AT prep, looking forward to following along.

  • JKRKansas : Jan 19th

    Regarding poles for the AT … we are planning our AT thru hiking adventure in 4/2022! But we do a lot of long distance hiking in Colorado. I find that the poles will make you faster, help you to NOT give in to the heavy pack slump (stand up straighter), and with any climbs, decrease the work on your legs by 20%. Def a pole fan!

  • Twiddlesticks : Feb 4th

    I’m enjoying reading your blog posts 🙂

    Re: poles, I find they take about 25% of the effort out of your legs and give it to your arms (which is a good thing and helps to prevent you becoming pathetically weak in the upper torso). Your knees will thank you and you’ll probably fall less often with poles. I find they also increase my walking speed, especially on flat terrain.

    Re: hiker hunger, YMMV but I found I needed to do really big miles to get it, I only had it when I was doing 25-30mpd.

  • phenny : Feb 15th

    I am thrilled that I found our blog! I am a 50 year-old female Hoosier who designs on a hike in 2022 or 2023. I just bought a set of hiking poles myself and plan on trying them them out here in the hills of southern Indiana. So far, I am not a fan, but I think I must be doing it wrong. Luckily, I think spending an hour on the rabbit-hole that is YouTube should hopefully send in the proper direction. Best of luck with your final prep!


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