Day 2: Springer Mountain to Hawk Mountain

March 18, 2015 Categories Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Hiking

Miles hiked: 7.9

Today began a little before 9am and was significantly better than yesterday. The initial section of trail after Springer Mountain was very mellow and I was able to complete the first three miles in just over an hour.

Frequently through today’s miles I had to cross raging rivers (small streams), barely making it out alive. Some of the streams had cool log “bridges” built to get over them, others had real bridges to cross.

I also spent a good section of the morning criss-crossing the Benton MacKaye Trail, which also starts at Springer Mountain. For those who don’t know, Benton MacKaye is the guy who dreamed up the Appalachian Trail. For a short distance, both trails walk the same path.

I reached Three Forks, the halfway point for today’s miles, right around 11am. Around mile five, the trail started to get a little tougher than the earlier section and my pace slowed a bit. It was right around this time that I ran into one of the guys who started at the approach trail with me the day before. We walked for about a half mile, then I stopped for lunch and he kept going.

It was around 1pm when I reached the creek that’s just before the shelter. My feet were pretty beat and I was quite happy to be at the end of my goal for today. I filled up all my water, sat down and drank an entire bottle, then filled up again before moving on. I walked into camp about 1:20pm.

Several people were already at camp. One of the more interesting groups were four college girls who traveled from New Hampshire down here to hike the Georgia section of the AT over their Spring Break. I just thought it was cool that instead of partying or going on some standard vacation, they choose to spend 10 days backpacking through the woods.

Another guy, an ex-Marine, started the trail back in February but broke his foot. He waited six weeks, even though the doctors told him to wait 10-16 weeks, and started hiking the trail again. The seal on his water bladder broke and later on he noticed his canteen was also leaking. I gave him the extra water bladder I wasn’t using. I need to drop as much weight from my pack as possible anyways.

There are some other people here with interesting stories about the Whites in New Hampshire and how fast the climate can change there. Luckily that’s a long way off and hopefully I’ll be ready for it by the time I get there, assuming I make it that far.

Got my first blister on the heel of my left foot, which is no surprise to me as it was the one bugging me most of the day. Just one more reason I need to get new shoes as soon as possible.

Day 1: Approach Trail to Springer Mountain

March 17, 2015 Categories Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Hiking

Miles hiked: 9.0
Pack weight: 46 lbs
Starting body weight: 212.8 lbs

I’ll flat out admit, today pretty much sucked. It was great, but at the same time it sucked giant donkey balls. With all the warm weather, my pack is loaded with all my cold weather gear and I think I’m carrying too much food, so instead of being 34ish pounds, my pack is a walloping 46 pounds! Now, some of you might think that’s not a lot, but when you’re carrying it on your back for nine miles up and down mountains, believe me, it is a lot.

I started at the approach trail this morning a little after 9:15. It’s an 8.8 mile hike from the start of the approach trail until you hit the first white blaze that signals you’re on Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. It took me about seven hours to get there and set up camp.

What in the blue blazes?!

The approach trail is marked by blue blazes on the trees, though they are pretty sporadic; luckily, the trail is so obvious to see, you could do the entire thing without them (at least when no snow is on the ground). The approach trail begins by walking a short distance into the woods, where you then start climbing up a series of 600 stairs to get to the top of Amicalola Falls. I was honestly happy about the stairs, even though they sucked to climb up. It was a great way to warm up and get my legs in the game. This section of trail covered about a mile. Sweet, only 7.8 more to go!

From the top of the falls, you follow the trail back into the woods and merely walk. Don’t worry, there are plenty of ups and downs to traverse and according to my feet and shoulders, they all suck.

I got a small jolt of energy when I walked past a sign that indicated I was just over 5 miles into the trail. This was a great pick-me-up, but it didn’t last long.

I stopped and got water a little further up the trail at Black Gap Shelter. One of the people that started with me this morning caught up to me there and decided to just call it a day. I was determined to reach Springer Mountain today, so I pushed on for another 1.5 miles that seemed to take forever and a year. I was so tired by this point, that I wished I just stayed back at the other shelter.

And then I saw it. The first white blaze of the actual factual, no shit Appalachian Trail. I had made it. I snapped a couple pics of the plaques that are there and moseyed on another short distance as fast as I could to reach the shelter and campsite area. It felt so damn good to drop my pack.

It took me a little while to actually set up camp and cook dinner. Every part of my body was just screaming “I hate you!”

Lessons learned:

  1. My shoes are entirely too small. Every downward slope, my toes were just slamming into the front of my shoes. If I don’t switch them out soon, I have no doubt I’ll lose a toenail very quickly. Unfortunately, it’s 21 miles to the next town and I don’t know what they’ll even have available.
  2. OMG, chafing, OMG.
  3. I need a belt.
  4. My BearVault has gotta go. With all the extra weight of the cold weather gear, the extra 2.5 pounds the BearVault weighs is not worth it. It, along a few other things, will be gone once I hit a town.
  5. Eating pizza and cheeseburgers while sitting around for the past six months was apparently not sufficient “conditioning”. Who knew?!

Day 0: Getting to the Trail

March 16, 2015 Categories Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Hiking

Hiking the Appalachian Trail will in no doubt be a large task to accomplish, but before that can happen, I had to actually get to the trail. This wasn’t extremely difficult, but it’s more cumbersome than one might think, especially if you don’t live in the area. I came in from Wisconsin, so it’s not like I can just have a buddy drop me off. “Hey, wanna drive 2,000 miles round-trip to abandon me in a park? Do ya, do ya, do ya?! I’ll buy you lunch!” Any takers? NOPE!

First task: Getting to Georgia. This was fairly easy, as there is a Greyhound station not too far from where I live. I choose to take a bus because it was the cheapest option. The downside of being cheap is it was a very long, very uncomfortable trip, as I’m not exactly a short person. The other downside is it only got me as far as Atlanta – which is about 80 miles away from Amicalola Falls State Park, where I plan to start my hike.

There are two places you can start the trail in Georgia: 1) Springer Mountain, the actual southern terminus, which is only accessible via an unpaved forest road (Forest Service Road 42) followed by a mile hike or 2) you can take the “approach trail” starting about 9 miles south of Springer in Amicalola Falls State Park.

Conveniently, there is no public transportation to either of those two locations. So this means you have to either pay for a very expensive cab ride, find a shuttle service that might get you there for over $100, try to hitchhike your way, or rely on a “trail angel” to give you a ride. I’m not gonna try to hitchhike 80 miles and I’m just as uncomfortable with “trail angels”.

Originally, I had another Greyhound ticket that left Atlanta to go to Gainesville, which is as far as Greyhound will go and is still about 36 miles from where I needed to be. However, Greyhound only does two trips to Gainesville each day and my bus to Atlanta arrived just after the last bus to Gainesville leaves. That means that I’d have to spend the night in Atlanta, take the bus to Gainesville the next morning, and from there take a taxi to Amicalola Falls. All-in-all, it would take me two days of travel, plus about $180 dollars to cover the stay in Atlanta plus the taxi to the park, where I would arrive too late in the evening to begin my hike, forcing me to camp there for the night and start hiking the next morning – three days after I left home.

Then magic happened. I learned about HikerHostel.com which offers a “Thru-Hiker Special” (not sure if they do it every year). The special runs from February 24th until April 20th and costs $80. Not only do you get a place to sleep, but you get a ride to the hostel from the North Springs MARTA Station or Gainesville, a free breakfast, 8oz of white gas or denatured alcohol, and a ride to¬†Amicalola Falls State Park or the Springer Mountain parking lot the next morning. Say whaaaaat?!

That was too good of a deal to pass up. Not only was it saving me money, but it was saving me an entire day of travel time. Getting to the trail a day sooner, now that’s just pee-in-your-pants fantastic! I ditched my bus ride to Gainesville and instead went to the Garnett MARTA station, directly behind the Greyhound stop, and took the Red Line to North Springs, costing a mere 350 pennies. The Hiker Hostel shuttle picked me up there and took care of the rest. There were seven of us that got picked up, and another seven that were already at the hostel ahead of us. They seem like an OK group, not sure how many I’ll keep seeing along the trail. Three people at the hostel flew all the way from Germany to do this hike.

By no means am I saying this is what you should do if you are hiking the Appalachian Trail, but this is what I found best for me. If you’re fortunate enough to arrive in Atlanta (or wherever) with time in the day to hitch or just take a shuttle directly to the trail, to me, that’s the way to go. If you live close enough that you can have someone just drop you off, even better – I’m totally jealous.

AT Prep: Mail Drops

March 3, 2015 Categories Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Hiking

With two weeks left before I leave for the Appalachian Trail, I finally packed and labelled all of my resupply packages, a.k.a. mail drops. Most of them are five days of supplies, some six, and a few are seven. For anyone who doesn’t know, you can mail yourself a package to any Post Office and they’ll hold it for two to four weeks. Pick up the package whenever you want by presenting a valid ID. You can also forward an unopened package somewhere else. If you want to mail yourself something, just address the package as follows:

Your Name
c/o General Delivery
City, State Zip

* Hold for AT thru-hiker
Expected arrival: ##/##/####

Unlike most people, I will be mailing myself most of my supplies instead of buying as I go. There are a few towns I plan on buying food, mainly because there is a grocery store within a few miles of the trail whereas the Post Office is probably closer to 10 miles away. Here are the towns I have decided to send mail drops to (towns in bold are directly on or within 1 mile of the trail):

  1. Franklin, NC 28734
  2. Fontana Dam, NC 28733
  3. Hot Springs, NC 28743
  4. Erwin, TN 37650
  5. Damascus, VA 24236
  6. Atkins, VA 24311
  7. Pearisburg, VA 24134
  8. Catawba, VA 24070
  9. Montebello, VA 24464
  10. Elkton, VA 22827
  11. Linden, VA 22642
  12. Smithsburg, MD 21783
  13. Duncannon, PA 17020
  14. Port Clinton, PA 19549
  15. Delaware Water Gap, PA 18327
  16. Southfields, NY 10975
  17. Kent, CT 06757
  18. Tyringham, MA 01264
  19. Bennington, VT 05201
  20. Killington, VT 05751
    Cold weather gear will be mailed here, too.
  21. Glencliff, NH 03238
  22. Gorham, NH 03581
  23. Stratton, ME 04982
  24. Monson, ME 04464
    Last town before the 100-mile wilderness.

For the first 100 miles in Vermont, the AT is the same path as the Long Trail, the oldest long distance hiking trail in the US; it is a total of 272 miles long. After finishing the AT, I want to rent a car and drive to where the Long Trail and AT split, near Rutland, VT, then hike the roughly 170 additional miles North to complete the Long Trail at the Canadian border. I’m hoping this only takes a couple weeks and will be doing mail drops to the following towns:

  1. Rutland, VT 05701
  2. Waitsfield, VT 05673
  3. Johnson, VT 05656

The most annoying part of doing so many mail drops is I’ll have to constantly try to predict when I’ll be in a certain town and have the package shipped there a couple weeks in advance. Although I made a rough itinerary for where I hope to be by each day, I don’t expect to follow it at all. I’m sure some days I won’t make my mileage at all, but I’m hoping other days I’ll have extra miles to make up for it.

I’m also confident I’ll skip or miss a package or two, especially if I arrive in a town late on a Saturday after the Post Office is already closed. I’m not going to wait until Monday morning to get a package, I’ll just buy food in town and keep moving.

It’s unfortunate when people feel they have to stick to a set itinerary and schedule. There’s nothing wrong with being prepared, as long as you’re willing to deviate from your plans. Anything can happen.

And who knows, maybe after a couple weeks of hiking I’ll decide this was all one giant, terrible idea. Whhaaaaaat? Walking 2,000 miles up and down mountains for six straight months ISN’T the best idea in the world?

AT Prep: One Month To Go

February 15, 2015 Categories Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Hiking

With one month left before I start my Appalachian Trail thru-hike, I’m becoming more and more impatient for the final day to come. It feels like it’s taking forever to reach my departure date.

I bought my bus ticket this past week, which I’m not too much looking forward to the 24 hour ride across 1,000 miles. Of course, that only get’s me to Atlanta. Then I take another bus the following day, followed by a taxi to get to Amicalola Falls State Park where I will then set off on foot for a 9 mile hike before I finally reach the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. It’ll be two or three days of travel just to get to the trail, and I’m honestly not sure if I’ll sleep much during that time.

I’ve begun packing resupply boxes and in doing so, quickly realized how annoying it is trying to cram 7 days of food and supplies into a “Large” Priority Mail box. Trying to cram that same food into my BearVault was another fun task (I’ve decided it can’t be done… at least not without a shrink ray). Thus, I’m now planning on only carrying 5 days of food at a time and just stopping in towns more often, which I was originally trying to avoid to save a few pennies. On the plus side, this will lighten my load by about 4 lbs and makes the supplies much easier to pack/repack.

During this time I’ve also been thinking about what to do next year and/or when I get back. As of today, I have three main ideas to choose from:

I really want to get some wooded land and build a cabin, living old-school with no electricity and a wood stove. I’ve even started looking at land and pricing things out.

If I can sell my Jeep, I’d love to buy an old conversion van and do a 365 day, 50 state road trip across the US trying to visit as many National Parks as possible along the way. I have a timeline and route planned out to hit almost every single park during it’s optimal season, avoiding as many crowds as possible.

If nothing else, I’ll be hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

AT Prep: Terrain Analysis

January 28, 2015 Categories Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Hiking

Although the Appalachian Trail is nicknamed “the green tunnel” due to its vastly wooded landscape, there are significant amounts steep, rocky climbs and other obstacles to overcome – you are hiking in the mountains, after all. Some of my bigger concerns are just how steep and rocky it really is, and in the event of snowfall, how slippery and dangerous these areas will become. I’ve done some steep and rocky climbs in Hawaii, to the point of requiring ropes and sliding on my hands and feet to “safely” get back down from muddy ridges during a rainfall, but without the added risk of snow or freezing temperatures.

I’ve been checking out the Appalachian Trail Conservancy‘s (ATC) website to try to get a better idea of what the terrain is like in different sections of the trail and what kind of climate to expect, as I don’t want to carry the weight of cold weather gear in areas I don’t need it.

From what I’ve gathered, the end points of the trail are the most difficult areas due to snow, cold, or pure ruggedness. New Hampshire and Maine are the most difficult areas of the entire trail. I’ve long heard about the 100 mile wilderness in Maine, where there is little or no options to resupply between Monson and Katahdin. The White Mountains in New Hampshire seem to pose as the second biggest obstacle to me.

Even though the western part of Maine is described as the toughest part of the AT, I feel as if the 100 mile wilderness will be more difficult because it’ll last for days. I’m hoping that I can do around 20 mile days in that section, though I have planned closer to an average of 15 miles per day. Being that Katahdin is a steep climb, I don’t want to arrive there tired, hungry, and out of food.

Based on what I’ve found, I’m planning on taking my cold weather gear with me on the bus to Georgia and keeping it likely until halfway through Virginia or at least until the end of May. I’ll then mail it home and have it mailed back to me once I reach New Hampshire to have it for the White Mountains and Maine. Being that I’m from Wisconsin, I’m used to cold weather and I get hot pretty easily, but I imagine it’ll feel chilly once hiking is done for the day.

Continue reading AT Prep: Terrain Analysis

AT Prep: Itinerary

January 27, 2015 Categories Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Hiking

I’ve been working on my Appalachian Trail itinerary for the past few days, trying to figure out just where I’ll be and when. I’m attempting to stop in towns as little as possible to avoid the excess cost and temptation of lodging and fancy meals. Contrary to how most people only do a few mail-drops and rely on towns to resupply, I am doing pretty much 100% mail-drops along the way. The downside of this method is it takes a little more planning to ensure you arrive in each town during Post Office hours and on a day they are open.

If I am making excellent time and somehow get to a town before my mail-drop does, I will suck it up and buy food in town and just ditch my scheduled package – I’m not gonna stop and wait for a package to arrive. I plan on having my packages mailed to me two full weeks before I expect to be somewhere, that way I should never arrive before my package does.

I didn’t include “zero” days (rest days) in the itinerary, but I plan on taking 12 to 14 of them. I’m going to try to take them while in a town or near a food source every two or three weeks.

To get to the trail, I’m taking a Greyhound bus to Atlanta. The next morning I’ll take the bus to Gainesville and from there I’ll take a taxi to Amicalola Falls State Park. I’m gonna camp in the park and start the Approach Trail to the AT the following morning. Four days after leaving home, I’ll finally be at Springer Mountain.

Continue reading AT Prep: Itinerary

Appalachian Trail

January 26, 2015 Categories Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Hiking, Trails

In March of 2015, I attempted to hike the entire Appalachian Trail, but only made it about 60 miles. I know, I suck. I gave up because of a preexisting knee injury that was bothering me, but it probably didn’t help that I had a few too many “extra cookies” around my waist (a.k.a. too fat) and I hadn’t really exercised in the six months prior to hiking. I made some other mistakes, too, but eventually I do want to go back and try to hike it again (I’m foolish like that).

Preparation

On the Trail


Fun Facts

  • Maintained by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC).
  • Starts at Springer Mountain, Georgia (Southern terminus).
  • Ends at Katahdin, Maine (Northern terminus).
  • Roughly 2,180 miles long (the exact mileage changes each year as trail repairs/relocations are made).
  • Passes through 14 states, 6 National Parks, and 8 National Forests.
  • Total elevation gain of hiking the entire trail is equivalent to climbing Mt. Everest 16 times!
  • Marked with two inch by six inch vertical white paint blazes. A double blaze, one above the other, is placed before turns, junctions, or other areas that require hikers to be alert.
  • There are approximately 165,000 blazes along the Appalachian Trail.
  • Most hikers take five to seven months to hike the trail.
  • More info here
  • Even more info here

Hiking Methods

There are three basic approaches to hiking the AT:

Northbound, or “NOBO”, is the more common approach because you can start earlier in the year. Like most people, this is the approach I will be taking. In 2014, there were 2,500 people who attempted to thru-hike the entire trail who started in Georgia. Of those 2,500, only 1,130 made it as far as Harpers Ferry and only 644 actually finished it (that’s a 26% success rate).

Southbound, or “SOBO”, hikers are more rare. Not only is it more difficult because you’re starting with the hardest section of the trail, but you can’t start until later in the season, usually around June. In 2014, there were only 242 attempts to hike southbound. Only 168 went as far as Harpers Ferry and 70 people completed the whole trail (29% success rate).

Flip Flopping is the least common with 114 attempts in 2014 and 69 people completing it (57% success rate). The advantage to flip flopping is you can avoid severe weather conditions in the high altitude locations such as New Hampshire/Maine and North Carolina/Tennessee. To me, this method is almost cheating and you might as well be considered just a section hiker.

Resupply Methods

Obviously you can’t carry enough food to last for six months and hike the entire trail. There are three methods of supplying yourself with food along the way:

  • Buy as you go
  • Mail drops
  • Combination

Buy as you go has the advantage of you don’t need to rely on anyone to mail you packages and you don’t have to pay for shipping the food. You can also change up your food if you get sick of one thing, just buy something else. The disadvantage is that you rely on the town to have the supplies you need. If there’s not much in the town or other hikers have bought it all out, you might get stuck eating M&Ms for a couple days.

Mailing yourself food drops as you go has the advantage of knowing you’re gonna have the supplies you need/want when you get to your desired location. The big disadvantages are that you not only have to pay to ship the food, but you have to carefully plan ahead as to which towns you’ll be stopping in and making sure you arrive there during Post Office hours. You should mail your packages at least two weeks in advance of when you think you’ll be somewhere when using this method.

You can mail packages to yourself at any Post Office by simply addressing a box as follows:

Your Name
c/o General Delivery
City, State Zip

Be sure to also label the package with “Hold for A.T. Hiker” and include the expected date of your arrival as well as a return address. They will hold the package for up to 30 days. You will need to present a valid ID to pick up the package.

The combo approach is the most common. Hikers use a mail drops in locations known to be low on supplies or lacking specific things, and they buy most of their food as they need it along the way.

Maps

The Appalachian Trail is marked well enough that I don’t care about detailed maps, but I do think it’s nice to have an overview. It took me awhile to come across it, but it turns out the National Park Service provides a free “brochure” which is actually a really great overview map of the entire trail, and includes the locations of many towns and shelters.

The ATC also has a lot of GPS/GIS data available for download or you can get detailed maps by purchasing the guidebooks at a hefty price.

Permits

Permits are only required at two locations along the trail:

Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Thru-hikers can purchase a backcountry permit for $20 and it is good for 8 overnight stays in the park, but the permit itself is only good for 38 days from the date it is issued. You are required to have a printed copy of the permit with you at all times while in the park. I plan on purchasing mine about a week before I head out. Permits can be obtained via the National Park Service website, in person, or by phone. Some of the AT books suggest not waiting to try to get a permit in person.

Shenandoah National Park. Permits are free and can be obtained by self-registration at entry points at both the North and South borders of the park. You can also apply for your permit ahead of time by mailing an application to the Park Headquarters (allow two full weeks).

Links and Resources

 

AT Prep: Gear List

January 24, 2015 Categories Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Hiking

After two years, I’ve finally decided on what I believe is my final gear list for what I’ll be taking with me on the Appalachian Trail this year. I’ve bought a lot of gear in those two years, including: five different tents, 3 sleeping bags (and two prototype bags that haven’t even been developed yet), multiple camp pillows, stoves, pots, hatchets, foldable saws, knives, etc. What did I learn? Well, mainly that I didn’t and don’t need about 95% of the crap that I bought.
Continue reading AT Prep: Gear List

AT Prep: Meal Planning

January 21, 2015 Categories Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Hiking

I’ve started testing out the trail foods I plan on taking with me as I hike the Appalachian Trail this year. Although I’m not going to go as in-depth as this, I’ve had a rough idea of what I was going to take for some time now, but haven’t actually taste-tested some of it before and that’s what I’m doing over the next couple weeks.

I don’t plan on buying much food as I go, so I’m getting mail drops roughly every seven days. Some things, like the Beef Jerky, I haven’t bought yet because I want the expiration dates to be as late as possible. And yes, I do plan on eating real food while in towns – even if it costs $20 a plate. Continue reading AT Prep: Meal Planning