The Shakedown Hike
If you’re on the fence about whether long-distance hiking is for you, plan a shakedown hike.
A “shakedown” hike is basically a long-ish hike where you find out what works, what doesn’t, what gear you don’t need and what you wish you had, and if you really like hiking.
At the end of September last year, Rollie and I did our shakedown hike.
We did just over 70 miles between Duncannon and Port Clinton on the Pennsylvania portion of the AT. Our plan was to hike one more day but the remnants of Hurricane Ian drove everyone from the trail. We’re grateful to SOBO Moose Boots for even mentioning the forecast because we hadn’t been watching the radar at all. Rain was expected to arrive by 1am Saturday and not stop for a few days. Wet rocks and hiking are not a safe combination. We got off trail in Port Clinton, fellow hiker Dobie gave us a ride to where we parked our vehicle, and we headed home a day early.
Rollie and I stayed one night at the double-decker William Penn Shelter
As it turns out, I love long-distance hiking.
When friends asked how the shakedown went, I had one-word answers: Amazing. Exhausting. Inspiring. Brutal. Fantastic. Painful. Enlightening.
All of the hikers I’ve talked to, read, or followed on social media suggest not doing more than 10 miles per day for the first few weeks in order to allow your body to adjust to life on the trail. We tried to stick to that during the shakedown, but did one 13-mile day. My body was wrecked. Hiking “Rocksylvania” was hard enough on the days we only did seven miles–it takes time to develop trail legs.
As a result, the plan for the first week when Rollie and I start the AT together is to not exceed 8 miles per day. Based on distance between either shelters or tent sites listed in both the FarOut app and AWOL’s guide, we should be able to stick to that plan.
What our shakedown looked like
Day 1: 6.4 miles, tent
Day 2: 8.3 miles, tent
Day 3: 13.1 miles, Rausch Gap Shelter
Day 4: 7.8 miles, tent
Day 5: 7.1 miles, William Penn Shelter
Day 6: 9.7 miles, tent
Day 7: 9.6 miles, Eagle’s Nest Shelter
Day 8: 9.4 miles, then a ride to a campground for a shower & drive home
A thru-hike rule
To be considered a thru-hiker, one must complete the entire AT within 12 consecutive months. When we planned the shakedown, I hadn’t even considered that those 70 miles would be within the 12-month window. I expect to finish my hike by the first week of September at the latest. That means…wait for it…I don’t have to hike those 70 miles this summer! Those 70 miles of rocks, rocks, rocks, and more rocks.
Yes, I’m aware there are still more rocks remaining between Port Clinton and Delaware Water Gap, New Jersey, New York, and so on. But, darn it all, those rocks tried to kill me. I don’t want to visit them again so soon.
Rollie, on the rocks
When rocks bite
We were trucking along at a steady clip only a mile from Eagle’s Nest Shelter when those little rocks that jut from the ground reached up and bit me.
Okay, okay. I was getting tired and not watching my step…I tripped.
The whole fall felt like slow motion as I attempted to turn my body so I would land on my pack and not on the rocks. It didn’t work. I landed on my knees and the side of my face.
While Rollie remained calm and assessed the damage, I only focused on the worst-case-scenario: What if I’ve broken my knees? My mind descended into self-pity for a hot minute. Then, with Rollie’s encouragement, I did some self-evaluation. I stood. I wiped off the blood. We continued and made it to the shelter, then down that crazy descent into Port Clinton the next day. I couldn’t put any pressure on my knees for the next two months, but they’re back to normal now.
And after all of that, I still want to get back on trail.
I learned a lot–what I don’t need, what I should have brought. I learned that water is freaking heavy. I learned all of the research I did over the last 18 months paid off. I learned to check the weather radar daily. I learned how to properly pack my backpack (the first few days my pack was a hot mess).
Since then, my thoughts have been consumed with returning to the trail “for real” in March. My thru-hike is scheduled to begin shortly. I expect it to take between 5 and 6 months and…
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