What exactly is the Appalachian Trail?
The Appalachian Trail (AT) is a footpath that runs through 14 states along America’s east coast. The southern terminus of the trail is on the top of Springer Mt. in Georgia and the northern terminus of the trail is on top of Mt. Katahdin in Maine. The trail is approximately 2,180 miles long, takes roughly 5 million steps to complete, and the total elevation gain of hiking the AT in its entirety is the equivalent of hiking Mt. Everest 16 times.
The trail was first envisioned by Benton MacKaye in the early 1920s and with the help of Myron H Avery and numerous other volunteers it became a reality in 1937. The first person to ever successfully thru-hike the trail was Earl Shaffer, who was a WWII veteran looking to walk off the war.
What is a “thru-hiker”?
A thru-hiker is a person who attempts to hike the AT in its entirety in one season. It is speculated that 2,000 hikers attempt a thru-hike each year (this number continues to grow) and only a quarter finish. Most thru-hikers begin their journey on the top of Springer Mt. in early Spring – they are called NOBOs (north-bounders). A rare few decide to start their journey in Maine on the top of Mt. Katahdin and work their way south – they are called SOBOs (south-bounders). A thru-hike typically takes 4 to 7 months to complete.
There are also “section hikers” and “flip-floppers“. Section hikers complete the trail over the coarse of many years, typically hiking a couple hundred miles at a time. Flip-floppers typically complete the trail in one season, but will hike the trail out of order – for instance, a flip-flopper might start the trail in Georgia, but upon reaching Virginia will get off the trail, fly/drive to Maine, and start hiking south to Virginia where they’ll finish the trail.
Which 14 states does the AT go through?
The 14 states are Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine – phew!
What do hikers do about food?
Most hikers carry enough food to last them 4 to 5 days, at which point they get off the trail to restock. The trail runs through numerous towns, and there are many other towns that are only a couple of miles off the trail. To get to these towns, most hikers prefer to hitch-hike. Once in town, hikers are able to resupply at grocery stores, outfitters, and convenience stores. Some hikers also choose to mail food to themselves during their hike; this is the route I will be going, at least some of the time. I follow a 100% vegan, plant-based diet and avoid gluten when possible. Because of this, I’m planning to send food to myself along the trail where grocery stores are sparse.
Where do hikers sleep?
Most hikers set up camp near a shelter, or “lean-to”, each night. Hikers can opt to sleep in the shelter or set their tent or hammock up close to the shelter. In addition to shelters, hiker hostels surround the trail and usually only charge hikers a small fee (some are run on a donations basis). Hikers will also sporadically stay in motels and hotels when staying in town. Throughout the White Mountains of New Hampshire are 8 huts maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club that usually allow a small number of thru-hikers shelter for the evening on a work-for-stay basis.
What is a “zero” day?
A zero day is when a hiker doesn’t hike any miles of the AT, instead choosing to take the day off.
What is “trail magic”?
Trail magic is an act of kindness performed by a stranger or friend of the trail that is directed towards a hiker. Examples include being given free food, a ride to town, a place to stay, and a bathroom to clean up in.
What do people bring for protection?
I’ve been asked by numerous people if I plan on bringing a gun with me. To this question I answer with a big resounding NO – too much extra weight 😉
Most people tend to bring some sort of small knife. I also plan on bringing pepper spray. Hikers can also use their poles in the event they need to protect themselves. HOWEVER, crime along the AT is quite rare. Taken from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy website, “The Appalachian Trail is safer than many cities in America, and you are likely safer on the A.T. than in an automobile on your way to the trailhead.” Crazy things can happen, which is why it’s always good to be conscious of your surroundings and trust your gut, but hiking the AT is relatively safe. In fact, most people I’ve spoken with have mentioned how their thru-hike helped remind them of the goodness and generosity of the human spirit and served to “restore their faith in humanity”. Pretty exciting stuff.
What wildlife can be seen on the trail?
Most people encounter black bears, rattlesnakes, copperheads, deer, moose, wild ponies, as well as numerous other small animals and birds.
Any questions I didn’t answer? Send me a comment and let me know! I’m happy to provide more information.