Thru-Hikers: 3 Tips for Newbies (From a Newbie)

Twenty-One Days

Today marks three weeks on the Appalachian Trail. Though I’d been told that time on trail differs greatly from time in the real world, I wasn’t truly prepared; it feels like we’ve been out here for a lifetime.

The kid that passed through the arch at Amicalola Falls has gained a mountain of knowledge about thru-hiking, so I’ll be focusing mostly on the info that newbies (like me) can benefit from.

Georgia: Easy or Hard?

While researching trail conditions and state reputations during my thru-hike preparations, I found that Georgia was a difficult state to pin down. Some hikers reported treacherous traverses, while others praised the state as an easy walk in the woods. So which is it?

Georgia. Is. Hard.

There are a myriad of reasons for Georgia’s difficulty; the state’s trails are unforgiving in their constant ups and downs, and mountain weather is often unpredictable. However, it’s a new hiker’s body that makes Georgia tough; only a select few hikers are physically ready when they take their first steps. Aches and pains stretch the miles and make each step heavy.

Don’t let that deter you! Georgia is meant to test newbies and veterans alike; slow and steady is crucial when starting in Georgia regardless of your hiking experience or style. Don’t worry about crushing miles right out of the gate.

Schedules: Yay or Nay?

It’s not easy to shake the regimented American lifestyle when starting the trail. Estadounidenses (Americans) are goal and schedule oriented; we enjoy having control over anything and everything, and struggle when having to be flexible with unforeseen circumstances.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail can (and will) break even the most rigid scheduler. The reality? Throw your mileage schedule out the window, and take each day as it comes. One of the most freeing aspects of thru-hiking is the freedom to exist outside of routines. While some hikers may be restricted to some scheduling due to health/dietary needs (resupply boxes), the majority of hikers have the luxury of flexibility; they just have to embrace it.

Trail Families

Although I had heard of trail families long before setting out three weeks ago, I hadn’t thought I’d find myself a member of one so quickly.

Trail families offer plenty of benefits, but also come with a few drawbacks. For some, a trail family offers safety in numbers or budget-friendly town visits, while others seek the camaraderie and community that develops from hiking in a group. In all cases, however, trail families are something special; a mutually agreed upon group of like-minded individuals working toward one goal.

Hiking in a group makes thru-hiking less about shelter-hopping and more about realistic mileage. While solo hikers may plan their days by shelters (social hot spots), trail families are free to start and stop at any campsite or shelter as they please; they’re their own social hot spot.

That being said, coordinating and maintaining peace in a trail family takes care and effort by all members. Trail families are typically made up of similarly paced hikers; those trying to keep pace with others may find themselves sidelined due to injuries, while experienced hikers may tire of the constant low mileage of their less seasoned peers.

That being said, I absolutely believe in trail family life. Time seems so accelerated on-trail; I’ve come to know and love everyone in my trail family after only two weeks. While we may not be together for the entire trail, it makes the whole experience that much more memorable.

Embrace Everything

Three weeks ago I summited Springer Mountain, knees shaking from both excitement and nerves. Since then, I’ve run, climbed, walked, and limped over 200 miles, from the dormant spring forests of Georgia to the peak of Tennessee’s Clingmans Dome. Along the way, we’ve seen sun, rain, wind, snow, and hail, and somehow managed to smile through it all.

Back home, we’re a bunch of computer geeks, world travelers, scientists, oddballs, teachers, performers, carpenters, and servers.

But out here, we’re thru-hikers.

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Comments 3

  • Maureen M Jensen : Apr 28th

    Congratulations Sean for reaching your 200 mile mark! Wow- Wow is all I can think of saying right now. You will be filled to the brim with life experiences by the time you reach Maine. We walked for only 1 week in Ireland and had a dry, soft bed to sleep in each night and home cooked breakfast to send us on our way each day. Even with those comforts, we found the daily trekking (with very light packs too!) challenging. So, I really admire your courage and tenacity. Stay safe along the way and keep blogging so we can try to also experience a glimmer of what you are experiencing. Love, aunt Maureen

  • Todd Jones : Apr 29th

    Nice’s posts. Will Continue to follow. Good luck out there.

    Question, where was the photo in the “Four Lessons to Guide my Thru-Hike” taken?

  • Total Dweeb : May 25th

    Thank you. Having been scheduled and deadline driven for so many years, I have recently been “freaking” out about how I could possibly deal with totally unscheduled time on the trail after retirement. It will be a gi-normous change – thanks a bunch for talking about it – the freeing aspect you talk about is making me tear up with longing for that schedule-less freedom now. 🙂


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