Unconventional Wisdom: Is a Flip-Flop Hike Right For You?

Unconventional Is My Middle Name

For a long time, I’ve been convinced that the only way to hike the AT is to start on Springer Mountain and end on Katahdin.  I even felt a little sorry for people who didn’t summit Katahdin as their final glorious milestone along the AT. 

Their cherry on top. 

The rug that ties the room together. 

Two things about that kind of thinking:

1.  Never mind that once you summit, it still isn’t over because you still have to climb back down.

2.  This kind of thinking is anathema to the Hike Your Own Hike philosophy.  I get it.  I like doing things the “right” way.  Unless there’s not a right way.  Which there isn’t.  Or else no one would ever say “Hike your own hike, man,” ever.

Viva, flexibility!

Sooooooooooooo, I’ve changed my mind and I’ve changed my itinerary.

Katahdin will not be the rug that ties the room together for me.

That honor will go to Springer Mountain.

I’ve decided to flip flop*, (so I’m starting my Trek blogging career by proselytizing about flip-flopping).

Over the next few days, I’ll share the top nine reasons even an AT purist might want to consider going unconventional when planning their thru-hike.

Here’s why it bears contemplation…

Reason #1: The Bubble. 

For years my biggest resistance to hiking the AT was the crowds, which have only grown thicker in the years since that (expletive removed) Bill Bryson book, then movie, came out.     

When everyone leaves from Springer Mountain from mid-March to mid-April, they call it the Bubble.  It’s like camping with several hundred of your closest friends. 

I don’t call that hiking. 

I call that Bonnaroo.

But I crave a different experience. 

One where I don’t compete for limited tent sites or shelter space. 

One where I enjoy nature in quiet and solitude. 

One where there’s a chance of seeing wildlife (and I don’t mean the kind that packs in a case of beer, a bong and a Coleman sleeping bag).

I’m a tree-hugging, flower-smelling introvert.   I want some quiet!

I know, it sounds like I’m a curmudgeonly recluse.

I swear I’m not!

I can’t wait to meet my peeps on the trail, around a campfire.  I can’t wait to share trail stories and trail mix.

I just want to be intentional about my experience and who I share it with and that’s hard when you hike in that crowded Katahdin-bound bubble.

At least for the first 500 miles.

So, avoiding the Bubble. 

It’s good for my introverted side.

And it has other upsides, which I will be sharing in my next post..Reason #2 for Flip-Flopping Thru.

Also, I’ll share my new itinerary as soon as I’ve worked out the numbers.

Until then, leave a comment…how will you hike your hike?  Nobo, Sobo or Flip-Flop?  Tell us why.


View from Shining Rock in the Shining Rock Wilderness, Western North Carolina. My home turf!

Yay, you!

*(BTW, a flip flop hike is where you start in the middle, hike in one direction till you get to the end.  Then go back to the middle where you started and hike in the other direction till you get to the end.   Do that all in one season, and you are an unconventional thru-hiker.  Yay, you!)

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Comments 17

  • Mumble + Buffalo : Jan 2nd

    Great post, and awesome bio! We are thrilled to be flip-flopping thru the AT this year as well! We hiked a SOBO section in VA in the summer of 2015 and completed the Smokies section SOBO in 2016, so we experienced exactly what you explained and for this and countless other reasons, we too have chosen to flip-flop. We will start in Harpers Ferry, WV on May 22nd and hike north to Maine, and then hike south to Springer after returning to Harpers. Happy trails! @Lifeat2mph

    • Deane Giordano : Jan 2nd

      Thanks so much for reading, Mumble & Buffalo! You’ll probably be ahead of me, but it will make me happy to know you’re out there flip-flopping, too. One thing I’m really looking forward to is hiking the Smokies, all of WNC, really, in the fall. It’s my home turf and it’s Gorgeous (capital G!) Hike Happy! Ruby Throat

  • Boopdog : Jan 2nd

    I agree completely. I will be starting April 1 at Damascus going NOBO and finishing up in the smokies when the leaves are beautiful and it’s not freezing. Plus, starting at Damascus gives me time to get acclimated before the big hills.

    • Deane Giordano : Jan 2nd

      Yes! The Smokies in the fall! Top Ten. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for you, Boopdog. I hope our paths will cross out there. Hike Happy, and thanks for reading.
      Ruby Throat

  • Kay Nix : Jan 2nd

    Trail name: Blue Bell. I am starting my flip-flop out of Rockfish Gap on April 17th. Country Girl is my hiking partner. I plan to go easy in the Shenandoah and build up my trail legs.

    • Deane Giordano : Jan 3rd

      Hi, Bluebell! Thanks for reading. It warms my heart to know there will be so many flip-floppers out there. The Shenandoahs should be a lovely place for you and Country Girl to get your trail legs on. Hope to see you out there! Ruby Throat.

  • Kate G : Jan 3rd

    I’m flip-flopping, planning on starting north from Rockfish Gap on April 19th. I am a fellow introvert looking to avoid the Bubble!

    • Deane Giordano : Jan 3rd

      Oh, Kate…did you see the comment above this one? Bluebell and Country Girl are starting there, too…two days before you. Look out for them. Hike Happy!!!

      • Kate G : Jan 5th

        I did see that, thanks! This site doesn’t seem to notify commenters of replies to their comments or I would have said something to her.

        • Ruby Throat : Jan 5th

          Hunh…maybe reply to her comment and she will see it?

  • Bruce Peele : Jan 4th

    This was one of the best reasoned, well written, and most enjoy able articles I have read on the mérits of flip-flopping. Thank yoy, RubyThroat!

  • Rabbit : Jan 8th

    Love your comment “I’m a tree-hugging, flower-smelling introvert. I want some quiet!” Fits me to a tee too! Looking forward to starting my flip flop in Shenandoah on April 15 with Tortuga. See you out there somewhere!

    • Ruby Throat : Jan 9th

      Yes! Can’t wait to see you out there, Rabbit! I feel a tree-hug coming on! Hike happy, and thanks for reading! xo

  • KC : Jan 22nd

    Speaking of the “new itinerary”, do you know where you plan to start and when?
    I am seriously considering flip-flop but I was a little afraid I might miss out on some sweet companionship if I was in my own bubble, my after lonely mile. I’d be interested in hearing more about how you are plotting an itinerary.

  • Blitz : Apr 4th

    How about starting in March, Damascus to Springer, then Damascus to Katahdin?

    Has anyone ever thought about a flip-flop that avoids the bubble AND finishes at Katahdin? I am thinking of a March start in Damascus SOBO to Springer. I would meet the remnants of the NOBO bubble in Hot Springs or thereabouts. After Springer, pop back to Damascus to join the now much reduced and stretched out crowds on a NOBO hike finishing with a Katahdin summit sign-hugging moment!


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