One 2014 Thru-Hiker’s Advice for Hiking the AT: “There Is No Advice.”

The following is a guest post courtesy of Looper a 2014 thru-hiker via our “Submit a Story” terminal.  Have a story to tell?  Let us know.  

Advice for the trail: I have no advice.

One of the greatest teachers I ever had was the A.T. In 2014, I was 51 when I hiked it and learned from it. Let me say that again, I was 51 when I hiked and learned from the A.T. It was my muse, guru and instructor while I hiked its spine. The trail taught me how to live on less, how to “be” around others, and how to shed the prophylactic skin that had been created over time to protect me from human slights and perceived stresses of urban living. I learned a path toward a free soul and because of the trail I am still on that path, even though I’ve been off the trail for 7 months. It haunts me. I spend sleepless hours (mostly at night) replaying parts of the hike; summiting Blood Mountain in the lonely fog, setting up a tent in Low Gap in bone-chilling temps to the chortling of other thru-hikers smoking some grass and slogging thru a river that was, in reality, the trail leading to Abol Bridge in Maine.

There is no advice I can give you to prepare you for the trail, my friends. Everything you need, and such answers as you require, are there on the trail for you to discover. You will learn what other hikers mean when they say that you must accept what the trail gives, hike your own hike (HYOH) or “embrace the suck” (sage advice from a thru-hiker named Glue-foot).

You will get wet, cold, tired and hungry on the trail. But the trail always provides. If wet, accept it and know that the earth drenching rain is for a purpose. When it rained I thought of all the clean water I could drink and the never-ending streams that would cool me later. Is it positive thinking? Perhaps, but its the truth. You will find hardships galore, but with each hardship you will be forced to take action which will lead to great adventures. Many of my hiker friends got a bad case of foot rot or trench foot. They were required to take a few days off the trail to heal. As such, they met trail angels, enjoyed a few days in town, did laundry and ate till they burst. Those memories are part of the trail and part of its magic.

Your pack will be heavy and needless things will be discarded. Your stomach will shrink and you will live off less. Less is more. Eventually it will dawn on you what Thoreau meant by, “simplify, simplify”. You will be alone on the trail much of the time. You will listen and finally hear nature. Birds will wing overhead and bears will crash through underbrush. Trees will fall in the woods (and yes you will hear this). Then, without realizing it, you will be quiet when others are near. You will find yourself listening to others at a campsite, shelter or in town instead of immediately voicing your opinion. There will be times when you dream of going into town to enjoy a juicy burger or inhale a gallon of ice cream. Invariably, after a brief respite in town, you will yearn for the hour of your escape. To leave the smells and sounds of civilization for the trail and its “green tunnel”.

Rock hop through Pennsylvania and you will learn about tenacity and pain. Scale Mt. Kinsman in New Hampshire and halfway up a 1/4 mile out-cropping of granite you will wonder if you are still on the trail. Your fear of black bear will subside as you hike through the Shenndies and observe them on a regular basis on the trail, in a privy and foraging for hiker leftovers at a shelter. You will come close to stepping on a snake and will brush off a spider that found its way into your sleeping bag. And all of it will be wonderful, and none of it will kill you. Eventually, you will be defined not by your fears, but by your acceptance of those things that caused you fear.

Finally, you will learn from other hikers. You will learn patience, kindness, acceptance and love. I learned a deeper understanding of brotherhood and spiritual happiness that I never felt possible as an adult. If you are lucky, you will meet Bob Ackerly, the “ice cream man” who will give you ice cream and allow you to play croquet in his yard. It will all seem rather incongruent until you sense the feeling of elation and happiness from being present in his company. There are people that transcend the mundane and their spirituality is not of this world. Bob is one of those people. Enjoy a ride with “Ms. Janet”, meet the infamous and kind “Baltimore Jack” and bask in the pure humanity of a couple in West Hartford, VT who provide breakfast to all thru-hikers and give direction to a plunge off their 30 foot bridge into the White River.

Its all waiting for you my friends. All the advice you’ll ever need to thru-hike the A.T. is found on the A.T. Bonus, the advice you need to live your post-trail life is also waiting for you out on the trail. I wish for all of you the trails intimate teachings! Gods speed my brothers and sisters.

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Comments 2

  • Unacceptable Biome : May 13th

    This might be the most moving and inspiring article I’ve read on the Appalachian Trail. Thank you for sharing your experiences and for reminding me of the reasons I’m headed out on the trail.

  • Jennifer Tolson : Nov 29th

    I have been reading a lot in the last 6 months to prepare for hiking the AT. This is by far the most sincere and honest advice that I’ve come across! It comes straight from the heart and soul and resonates deeply with me personally. Thank you so much for sharing your innermost thoughts and feelings with us.


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