Sunday, April 10, 2011

What You Need To Know To Be An Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker, by Nancy Shepherd

Become An Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker

What You Need To Know

You've heard of the Appalachian Trail. You've seen the dreamy look in past thru-hikers' eyes when they speak of their AT experiences. You love camping in the woods. Now you think you might want to hike the entire Appalachian Trail, too. The prospect is exciting, but there are a lot of things to consider that you may not have thought of yet. I've been where you want to go. I thru-hiked the AT in 2001, and I offer this collection of insights from my experience so that you may jump-start your own thru-hike preparations. You, too, can become an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker.

map © Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Appalachian National Scenic Trail 

photo © Kathryn Case/ATC
First, a little introduction to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The AT was the first to be designated a National Scenic Trail. Light reading here, with some trail history, a list of notable past hikers, some highlights along the trail, and links to official information.

How To Prepare For A Thru-Hike 

Max Patch Mountain, Appalachian Trail
And now a little more meat. Whether a thru-hike is a successful, life-enhancing experience or a miserable folly depends largely on preparation and expectation. It isn't all fun and games out there. A long-distance hike requires attention to many issues before you even take the first step. From information gathering and logistics to physical and mental conditioning, this page will show you how to prepare for a thru-hike.

Top Ten Tips For Backpackers 

Cumberland Valley, Appalachian Trail
Some things just have to be learned through on-trail experience. But you can learn a lot from the experience of others. This is a list of thetop ten tips for backpackers that I've picked up in my 3,000-plus backpacking miles.

Appalachian Trail Blaze 

Life Lessons From The Appalachian Trail 

Photo © Mike Swanson/ATC
It's not just hiking tips that you'll learn out there. No matter how much you research and learn before you go, there will always be the unexpected. Whether you're a new college graduate or a retiree from the workforce or somewhere in between, the trail has something for you. A thru-hike is a metaphor for life, so you can expect to learn important life lessons from the Appalachian Trail.

Lessons Learned On The Appalachian Trail 

Rainbow  Ledges, Appalachian Trail
This is a continuation of lessons learned on the Appalachian Trail. While every thru-hiker climbs the same mountains and weathers the same storms, the lessons they each take away from the experience depend on what they've brought to the trail. Go open to the trail and to the lessons it has to teach you.

Appalachian Trail -- A Hero's Journey 

Threshold to Hero's JourneyWhat seems to be just a fun summer's adventure almost always becomes a journey with much deeper meaning. You may not realize it at the time, but you will be acting out the age-old pattern present in most ancient myths. You've left the familiar and comfortable life behind and embarked on a path full of the trials and obstacles that make theAppalachian Trail a hero's journey.

Life After The Appalachian Trail 

Katahdin, Appalachian Trail
Now you've read all about getting ready and about what to expect out there. You've chosen your gear, planned your itinerary, and packed your supply boxes. You're ready to go! But maybe you should give some thought to what happens when you're done hiking. It's a good idea to ponder what will be your life after the Appalachian Trail.

Katahdin Rocks 

My Hike On The Appalachian Trail 

Katahdin, Appalachian Trail
As I mentioned, I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2001. It was a dream I'd had for a very long time. I'd never done such a thing before. In fact, I'd never been backpacking at all until I decided to thru-hike the AT, and then I only managed to do a couple of training hikes before the big one. Here I relate my background, my preparations, and my fears leading up to my hike on the Appalachian Trail.

The Next Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike 

Mt Washington, Appalachian Trail
I spent a couple of years researching gear, the trail, and the day-to-day life of a long-distance hiker. I spent countless hours reading trail forums online. But still, it was all theory until I got out there and hiked. I wouldn't change a thing about my thru-hike; it happened exactly as it needed to for the lessons I needed to learn at the time. But, having had the experience, there are some things I'd do differently on the next Appalachian Trail thru-hike.

Quick Guide To The Appalachian Trail 

Appalachian Trail
Thru-hiking is different from doing short hikes, and a thru-hiker needs some different information. The Quick Guide to the Appalachian Trail lists just the bare-bones information on the AT.

My Own Hike 

Appalachian Trail book
Now you've read what I think is important for becoming an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker. But how do you know I really know what I'm talking about? How do you know I didn't just pull all this stuff off the web and throw it together? You can read more about me and about My Own Hike,the book I wrote about my thru-hike. It's an honest, day-to-day look at the joys and anguish of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.

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