Why I Am Doing a Flip-Flop Thru-Hike

What the heck is a flip-flop?

No one who has learned that I’m thru-hiking the AT has been shocked; not in the least bit. In fact, most have wondered what has taken so long. The first and obvious question consistently has been, “You’re thru-hiking with Winnie, right?” The second question, however, is where everyone seems to get confused.

Me: ”So next year’s our year, the money’s right, the timing’s right, we’re thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail”

Them: “OMG! This is so exciting! You’re hiking with Winnie, right?! Where are you starting? Georgia? Maine?”

Me: “Virginia.”

“But I thought you were hiking the whole thing?” “I am.” “But you said you’re starting in Virginia?” “I am. I’m hiking a flip-flop.” “You’re hiking in flip-flops?” “No, I’m starting in VA, hiking north, then flipping back down to VA and hiking south.” “But I thought you were hiking the whole thing?” “😑”

So really, what is a flip-flop?

It’s simple. Instead of starting in Georgia or Maine and hiking north or south, you start, well, wherever you want and hike in whichever direction you’d like. Once you’ve reached the end you go back to where you originated from and walk in the opposite direction.

Get it? Got it? Good. But why in the world would anyone want to thru-hike in such an unconventional manner?

Why in the world am I flip-flopping?

“But don’t you wanna finish on Katahdin?”

There are a whole host of reasons why individuals choose a flip-flop thru-hike. A larger weather window, beating the crowds, logistical aspects; for me, it can be summed up with two words that hold my entire heart: my dog.

I am a distance hiker through and through. I love walking all day, I love sleeping in the dirt, and I love carrying everything I need on my back. The caveat is so does my dog, possibly even more than me.

Winnie “The Fred” Winnifred.

Do I want to finish on “The Greatest Mountain?” Absolutely! But can I picture finishing without Winnie? Absolutely not.

“Why not go SOBO, then?”

This is always an interesting question because in theory it makes sense; however, I can’t imagine summiting Katahdin without walking there first and I also can’t imagine asking Winnie to hike the hardest parts of the trail right from the start.

So how do I walk to Katahdin and also finish the Appalachian Trail with Winnie by my side? We flip-flop.

So what’s our itinerary and why?

We have registered with the ATC to begin our thru-hike at Rockfish Gap on May 15. This puts us on the easiest sections of the trail (the Shenandoahs, Northern VA, Maryland, and Southern PA) as we build our trail legs back up before the rocks of Pennsylvania. This also puts us in our “backyard” for roughly 200 miles as we hike an area we are intimately acquainted with. This will allow us to not worry about logistics and be focused solely on hiking and getting back in shape for a really long walk. Setting Winnie up for success is key and starting at this point is paramount.

Starting at mile 863 during that time puts us ahead of the largest NOBO bubble with plenty of time to reach Maine before flipping back to Virginia to hiking south with a small group of SOBOs, SOBOs we will most likely meet in New England as we are still hiking north.

In essence we will be chasing spring before pursuing fall and the farther north we hike the farther south we will be. Never ones to be conventional hikers, we will find ourselves on a most unconventional thru-hike. A journey three years in the making, which every other long-distance hike we’ve endured has led to.

So what now?

Now we do what every AT hopeful does: we continue to save money and wait. Although we have our gear dialed in, I have been making some changes in our setup, like switching from a tarp to a tent, so we’ll be going out for 12 days next month to ensure some of the changes I’ve made are the changes I want for our hike. It’s debatable whether I should call it a shakedown or not. It’s also debatable if I’m calling it a shakedown as an excuse for a 12-day hike.

I hope you all will follow along with our journey as it slowly unfolds over the next few months and as we embark on a walk spanning all four seasons.

The farther north we get, the farther south we’ll be. ❤️




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Comments 9

  • Stacia Bennett : Oct 20th

    This is so good! I think a lot of people looking to hike with their dog can learn a lot from your thoughtfulness and approach to going on a long distance hike with Winnie. Your hike is going to be a master class in hiking your dog’s hike, and I hope everyone who is considering doing so will read your blogs and take some notes! Way to go, can’t wait to follow your journey.

    • Christopher Johnson : Oct 21st

      Thanks Tink! This means a lot coming from you! ❤️

  • stealthblew : Oct 21st

    Please consider keeping your tarp and not getting a tent. Besides the wt. savings, the tarp will offer more room for your pooch. But most importantly, you will be hauling extra gear for the dog and the extra weight associated with a tent may be an unnecessary burden.

    Fear and extra stuff (food/gear) are directly related. Only taking what is actually needed will enhance the enjoyment of the trip.

    Please consider this advice a suggestion. It is intended to save time and effort, but certainly not a requirement for success. HYOH and good luck.

    • Christopher Johnson : Oct 21st

      Thank you so much for commenting, you’ll be happy to know after much consideration I’ve actually decided to remain a tarper. I just couldn’t bring myself to make the switch lol

    • Jerry : Sep 25th

      Three people have already died from EEE from mosquito bites and you’re thinking tarp? Over 80 pct of ATs use tents for a reason

  • Patti and Bob : Oct 22nd

    We are so happy that you and Winnie are following this dream and we look forward to reading your posts.

  • Pumpkin Carving Ideas : Oct 23rd

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  • Weasel : Jan 18th

    So I’m confused, are you going nobo from Rockfish to Katahdin then flipping back to go Sobo? Or are you flipping back to rockfish before Katahdin, hiking south, then flipping back up for the mountain? 🤔

    • Christopher Johnson : Jan 27th

      Rockfish to Katahdin then Rockfish to Springer 🙂


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