Weird Thru-Hiker Traditions on the Appalachian Trail
Every day, I meet new hikers that astound me with their stories, humor, and charisma. And for a bunch of people craving adventure, we sure do spend a lot of time staring at dirt.
So, we invent holidays and traditions to keep our spirits high over the many months away from home. People come to the trail with many different intentions for their journey to Katahdin, but seem to unite around elements and traditions that spark joy within the hiking community.
From the greasiest to the sweetest traditions, here’s a look at some of the things that keep thru-hiking exciting:
1. Half Gallon Challenge
One of the better-known (and sweeter) of the AT traditions is the Half Gallon Challenge. To succeed in this challenge, hikers consume half a gallon of ice cream at the halfway point on the trail. Some former thru-hikers recommend taking a zero day after participating — just to let the lactose run its course.
2. Four-State Challenge
This physical feat requires hikers to step foot in four states within a 24-hour period. Beginning at the Virginia-West Virginia border and stretching to the Mason-Dixon Line (going northbound), which touches the Maryland-Pennsylvania border. It’s a challenge that both NoBo and SoBo hikers can attempt about halfway through their journey along the trail.
3. Hike Naked Day
This unofficial (and risqué) holiday is meant to celebrate the summer solstice on June 21 each year. While nudity on the trail and in national parks is not illegal, it is strongly discouraged in any spaces where families or non-hikers could be crossed. I suppose you could see this holiday as an opportunity to celebrate making it to a new season with or without clothes (though, I will still be wearing my dresses come June 21). For a more PG version of this tradition, hikers could slackpack, eat unprocessed foods or go tech-less for a day. Or, simply enjoy the solstice.
4. No Shower Challenge
I know what you’re thinking: this challenge stinks. Ever wanted to test how long you could go showerless without losing all of your friends? The Appalachian Trail might be one of the only places to do so. Road Soda (2021 NoBo, @fuckingreasy, pictured above) made it 33 days without showering on trail. He also managed to accomplish 610 miles in that time by taking no zeroes. While this may be one of the greasiest of thru-hiking challenges, it offers another opportunity to physically and mentally push yourself. Though, it may also push everyone a safe distance away from you during your time without bathing.
5. Confess to the Trail Priest
If you love reading or writing in trail logs, you’ll have to spend some time reading through the log at the peak of “The Priest,” a 4,000-footer in Virginia. The name of this climb led to its trail log filled with hiker confessions and stories.
6. Moon the Cog
The cog railway along Mount Washington in New Hampshire has become the site for many moonings by thru-hikers. This is another controversial tradition as Mount Wash is frequented by families and tourists. Though I can certainly relate to the frustration of climbing thousands of feet across mountains to be beat to the top by a vehicle.
7. Beer for the Road
Perhaps the most common of trail traditions is packing out a drink of your choice as a reward for a milestone, mountain, or simply another day on trail. To have feasts or gatherings is a regular occurrence because we, as thru-hikers, always have something to celebrate.
Other, more commonplace, traditions include Trail Days in Damascus, jumping off the James River Bridge, FTKs, and more.
All traditions (including ones that haven’t been made yet — this is my pitch to start Trolidays for Xmas in July) are little pieces of a larger community that makes the trail so special.
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