Hike the AT or CDT? New England Roots Win Out
Hi, my name is Kimberly Huber, but I go by Ronin on the trail. Ronin refers to a samurai without a master, which is appropriate as I generally do all my traveling and hiking solo. It is also a colloquial term used in Japan for someone in between work assignments. This pretty much defines everyone on the trail.
I have been hiking since high school, but started doing longer trails when I turned 40 and hiked the 145-mile Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. Since then, I’ve hiked the Haute Route in Switzerland, the Alta Via 1 in Italy as well as the GR 20 in France, also known as Europe’s most difficult hiking trail. But my favorite hike thus far was the PCT, which I thru-hiked in 2015.
It is not unusual for me, even at the age of 53, to take off work and go on a trip. I once told my mother I quit my job, and her response was, “Of course you did honey, it’s summertime.”
There and Back Again?
Because I live in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, hiking NOBO on the AT is pretty much “there and back again.” I was in Georgia on a business trip last year and hiked the AT approach trail on a day hike. Told my boss in Massachusetts he was lucky I didn’t decide to just walk home… cut to a year later.
But Seriously, Why the AT? Why Now?
Growing up in New England, the Appalachian Trail was on my to-do list since I started hiking in my teens. After selling my house in Bellingham, Wash., and moving back east, I found myself with the time and resources to do a thru-hike. By this time I had found out about the PCT and CDT and had to make a decision as to which one to start off with. I decided on the PCT as my swan song to the West Coast, having lived in the Pacific Northwest for the better part of 14 years. It was an experience like no other for me. Getting off the grid for three and a half months was a breath of fresh air and a hard experience to get over. I am not a conventional person. Although I can and have worked steady, well-paying jobs my whole life, I have no problem giving it all up, even temporarily, to do something that most people consider “radical.” Life is more than just working and dying. Life is about experiences and becoming the best version of yourself through those experiences. Pushing yourself, going outside your comfort zone. I realized that I have been preparing for my next thru-hike since my return from the PCT. But again, I had to decide between the AT and the CDT. Ultimately, the AT is a more accessible trail, and much easier to plan for. Having family and friends all over New England doesn’t hurt on the trail angel side of things either. Besides, it’s the first, and who doesn’t love a classic?
OK, I mentioned that I’m from New England. This means I’m used to hiking on rocks and roots on extreme inclines. But that doesn’t mean it will be easy. The PCT, even when steep, was graded. There is a serious difference between “shifting” your weight and “lifting” your weight. On the PCT, I carried a relatively heavy pack of 35 to 40 pounds. With five to nine days between food drops and 30 to 40 miles between water sources, it’s just the way it had to be. I found it doable and never felt the need to change up my pack. On the AT, however, things have to be different. Rocks and roots mean a lot of lifting while hiking, which is far more leg and knee intensive. The need for a lighter setup is vital for this trip. Luckily, the towns along the trail are far more frequent and accessible, and water is more plentiful than on the PCT. This time around, my pack weight will be no more than 25 pounds. Any more and my body will suffer the consequences.
On the list of things I will need to manage physically and emotionally are:
Heat and humidity: Seriously, it is not humid out west. I anticipate a great deal of difficulty sleeping at night, and quite frankly, people are going to smell more.
Rain, rain, and yet more rain: On the PCT, rain is not something you have to really deal with until you get to Oregon and Washington, and in 2015 that wasn’t even a concern. I anticipate far more rain on the AT, and it’s hard to keep your shit dry after a few days in a row. Not looking forward to rain… just not.
Bugs, just a shit ton of bugs: Enough said.
Trees, so many trees: Not going to lie, this will be the biggest challenge. I like views. On the PCT you spend a lot of time above treeline overlooking some spectacular terrain. From the desert to high alpine, there is something to look at other than trees every day. The green tunnel has the potential to be an emotional abyss for me.
Crowds: Until the herd thins, there will be a lot of people on the trail. I love talking to people, but also crave that wilderness experience. Between the crowds of TH’s and town accessibility, finding personal pace will be a challenge.
Still super excited! Seriously, overcoming challenges and setting the course of your own day and life is worth the struggle… but bugs, just a shit ton of bugs.
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