Nov 28, 2010 at 9:40 pm #1266022
Hi guys and gals of the outdoorsy-sort,
Allow me just get this off my chest from the start:
I am not a backpacker.
I have virtually no experience in the sport/leisure/lifestyle/what-have-you. I come to you all with a predicament of sorts, however, and I desperately need to get the opinion of someone with experience in the field.
A little about me:
I'm 23 years old and female. I'm healthy, active, and considerably athletic in the endurance-sports arena. I run regularly (half marathon distance), road cycle when I'm not training extra-hard for a running race (up to 50miles or so), and do open water swimming in the summer (florida here). I eat almost *absurdly* healthy and natural, you get the picture, et cetera.
OK, so, someone I would consider my closest friend, a guy my age, has been planning to thru-hike the AT summer 2011, for at least a year now. He originally was set to take his good buddy, but work and his own wedding rendered good buddy out of commission.
My friend is now ready to just hike it alone. Given, he's an Eagle Scout, and avid…outdoorsman, he'll be fine. He's a textbook case: can't figure out what he wants from his life/is obsessed with the notion of living in the woods, and thus nothing is going to stop him. The thing is, I happen to secretly think this is AWESOME, although thus far I've only expressed slight worry for him and light (humorous) skepticism.
BUT: I have done some extensive reading on the Appalachian Trail. I've been lurking a lot of forums/blogs/et cetera, and the more I learn, the more I think…
I have to go with him. As in, I am becoming deeply, powerfully, compelled to do this.
This is completely insane, I know. I will, however, be done with school right as/before/right after he's leaving. I don't know what the HELL I'm doing with life either, and the ideas I considered were already in the realm of living on a farm/working in a national park/joining americorps/getting as far away from everyone I know as possible. See, I was already climbing the crazy tree, and now I feel like I'm reaching for that top branch.
To boot, he has casually suggested that I should come with him, and at the time I just kind of stuttered and changed the subject. It was too huge to tackle off-guard.
That said, I am trying my damnedest to learn. In fact, I'm going on a backpacking trip for the first time this weekend — guided, of course — to see how it feels.
So. Can I attempt this? SHOULD I? I'm looking for any kind of advice or perspective you guys have to offer, don't be shy. My friend is a little unconventional, and I feel like, from browsing around the various threads, he fits in way more in line with the people here than anyone I could talk to in real life.Nov 28, 2010 at 9:52 pm #1668891
@b-g-2-2Locale: Silicon Valley
If you go on a guided backpacking trip, that isn't going to hurt you, and it may give you more of an idea whether it is for you or not.
Then, assuming the answer is positive, you and the guy need to go on a short trip together, just to see if you and he have the same concepts about why you are out there.
As an example, some people are perfectly content to backpack out there only five miles, set up camp, hang out there for a few days, and then return home. Others are not content unless they are knocking out twenty miles per day, day after day. Some backpackers need solitude. Others want a team.
I can't predict whether there will be a perfect match, but if it is a semi-match, then you can continue toward a long-range trip plan.
–B.G.–Nov 28, 2010 at 10:04 pm #1668896
Do it.Nov 28, 2010 at 10:12 pm #1668898
Thanks, Bob. I agree. I'm sure I will make this happen at some point after I feel at least INITIATED. Don't wanna be dead weight.
Josh – whoa! conviction! I like it. Yeah…yeah that sounds good. Still feel insecure as all get-out though.Nov 28, 2010 at 10:15 pm #1668899
@saparisorLocale: Pacific Northwest
+1 to going for it!
I think the hardest thing about those long-distance hikes — of which I have done NONE — is having the time to do it. Your life will take a lot of different twists and turns but (and a big generalization here) your late-20s and 30s will be taken up with career and/or family. It gets a lot harder to be able to take the months off needed to do something like the AT until later in life.
So, you go. If you like it, you keep walking and maybe you walk with someone or maybe you walk by yourself. Or, you walk until you don't want to anymore, and you exit almost anywhere along the AT where you will never be THAT far from a way to get back home.Nov 28, 2010 at 10:23 pm #1668902
Right, so it's not really "dangerous" per se? As in, barring murderers/bear rampage, I'm not going to die, yeah. I was definitely getting that general safety vibe from research, what with all of the trail towns and how closely it follows major roads, et cetera. Advice on anything specific for total greenhorns to do/read/ask themselves before decided 100% affirmative (for greatest chance of success)?Nov 28, 2010 at 11:56 pm #1668928
@dirk9827Locale: Pacific Northwest
To echo the viewpoints of Bob, Josh and Steven, I would strongly urge you to pursue this opportunity! You are at an age when such an undertaking is far less difficult to take the time off than when you get older, entrenched in a career, have a mortgage and a family.
I have done but one long-distance trail, and did so at age 38. Except for the financial component, I can say unequivocally it is MUCH easier for someone in their early to mid 20s to undertake such a journey (wish I had known about the greatest of backpacking then). Obligations sneak up on you really fast in life, so to take six months off from my job (without quitting) required a very gracious and generous employer, an equally patient and understanding girlfriend, and tremendous support of my family, friends and coworkers. On the PCT at least, most of the people undertaking it are between 22-28 years old, with the next largest demographic being those 50 and over. There were relatively few people in their 30s and 40s hiking the trail, although during the recession there were probably a few more than usual.
So, if you have an inkling, do it! I think taking a guided trip is a good idea. Just getting some backpacking experience is very, very helpful. I knew people on the PCT who were making it their very first backpacking trip. Certainly, you can do it this way, but dang, I wouldn't recommend it. There is little substitute for experience – figuring out your gear and what works and what doesn't is something everyone must learn – by taking a few short trips before embarking on a 2,100 mile hike you can eliminate some of the stress and worry that comes with such a huge undertaking. Generally, new backpackers bring way too much gear. And the gear they bring is generally bulletproof, and therefore, heavy within its class.
It sounds like you are in great shape – that will help. I would say more that as important as being in good physical shape is to have a good attitude (your enthusiasm is a good sign!). Many people were surprised when they become discouraged at times on the trail – I think if you go in with the attitude that it's going to be fabulous all the time, well, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Any adventure that lasts upwards of six months is going to be a lot like life itself – many good days, some great days a few poor days and some really boring ones. And frankly, what adventure story is worth reading that doesn't involve some hardships and personal trials? That is why they call it adventure. Nobody writes adventure stories centered around time spent at a beach resort in Cancun.
I would also encourage you to read as much as possible beforehand (as you've done), as this will undoubtedly leave you better prepared. One such book I can recommend was written by a fellow thru-hiker – one Bill "Skywalker" Walker/ I met Skywalker (that's his trail name) on the PCT after he'd hiked the AT. The guy is just a hair under seven feet tall and describes himself as the "world's worst hiker" which he was not. However he wrote a funny narrative of his time on the AT, "Skywalker: Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail" which really captures the highs and lows of such a journey.
Regarding the "dangers" of thru-hiking, I think most are exaggerated. Certainly, there are bears. And snakes. And really bad weather. But the likelihood of being attacked by an animal is incredibly rare – among long-distance hikers the danger posed from a bear attack would be much greater in my estimation upon the far-northern reaches of the Continental Divide Trail, where there are grizzlies. But even then the chances would be quite remote. On the CDT and AT, I'd fear being caught in a lightning storm atop an exposed ridge line more than than I would a bear attack, for instance.
The biggest threat will likely be from injury. Among leading causes of death among backpackers/hikers, the leading two are falls and drowning, if memory serves correct. And most of those stem from poor decisions. Yet, on long-distance hikes, many people drop out because of injury, many of them related to repetitive stress. Finishing a long distance hike is as much a matter of tenacity as it is luck. Minimizing your pack weight (and the things within the pack) is key to reducing stress on your joints.
Finally, I would argue that it is the responsibility of every hiker who attempts such a journey to consider the feelings and fears of their friends and families. You need to do your best to educate and assuage those fears. People who don't understand will immediately think the worst will happen. Remember, the hard part is being left at home, looking at the weather and seeing heavy rain forecast and wondering if the person hiking is okay.
You could get a documentary like "Appalachian Impressions" by Mark Flagler which provides a nice overview of the trail,and invite friends and family to watch it. I think these documentaries do a great job of illustrating the allure of long-distance hiking and the unique opportunity that a thru-hike represents.
My friends and family were involved in my hike. They sent food drop boxes to post offices along the trail. I did meet them a couple of times at towns along the trail, taking a day or two off to catch up and enjoy each other. I did hike with my sister and brother for a few days (although honestly, this is difficult because you will be in fantastic hiking shape and will therefore, be so much faster than others). But keeping them involved and informed of my progress helped them as much as it helped me!
Take care and go for it!
DirkNov 29, 2010 at 12:09 am #1668931
I say go for it. I definitely wouldn't say that you have lost your mind either :) Like Steven mentioned if you find out it's not what you want to be spending your time doing then hop off the trail and go home. It's not like you'll be thousands of miles from civilization…. But, this could be one of the most freeing and rewarding experiences of your life. And in the 4-6 months that you're on that trail, who knows what could happen. You are going to be doing a lot of thinking while you are walking and being since you don't really know what you want in life (does anybody in their early 20s?), you just might figure that out. I'm 24 (25 in Jan) and I'm in the same exact boat you are. Next year I plan to thru-hike the PCT.
When you go on this guided backpacking trip and you find you like backpacking. Be sure to come back here to BPL. This is probably the greatest resource for backpacking there is. You'll learn a lot on here.Nov 29, 2010 at 12:17 am #1668932
you guys…are AWESOME. wonderful input. seriously. this is a joy.Nov 29, 2010 at 12:33 am #1668933
>you guys…are AWESOME. wonderful input. seriously. this is a joy.
Wait 'till you become a member! ;)Nov 29, 2010 at 1:16 am #1668938
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Your biggest risk is not the walking bit, but the car travel.
Suggested reading: A walk in The Woods, by Bill Bryson.
But don't take it seriously!
A couple of test weekend walks first would be very smart: you would learn so much about whether it is for you.
CheersNov 29, 2010 at 4:52 am #1668958
@alfrescoLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
Definately go for it. Try a couple backpacking trips first. You have to like sleeping on the ground & digging cat holes. YOu will get a lot of comments about your safety from friends & family – don't let that stop you. I just hiked 1300 miles of the PCT this summer and not once did I feel unsafe. It was a magical & humbling experience and one I wouldn't trade for anything.
Also, I recommend that you plan your gear so that you can go it alone. You and your friend may not hike the whole route together for numerous & assorted reasons.Nov 29, 2010 at 6:25 am #1668969
@richardglyonLocale: Bridger Mountains
As earlier posters have said, most of us don't get the chance to do something like this more than once or twice in a lifetime. Life gets in the way – job, family, mortgage payments, responsibility. You've already addressed the biggest hurdle by staying fit and healthy, and you have a trusted friend to assist. If it turns out you like sleeping in a small tent, putting up with the bad weather, tired feet, and days without a shower – all of which you can experience before starting on the AT – why not? Something to tell your grandchildren one day.
And do read A Walk in the Woods – funny and touching. The trail clearly changed the author's life.Nov 29, 2010 at 7:20 am #1668987
First off – Do It!
Second – You posted in BackpackingLight, hopefully because that's how you're going to do it. And hopefully the Eagle Scout is contemplating the same. Anything else is nuts, IMHO. And, everything you need to know can be found here. Just do your homework, and then ask for specifics. You'll get answers.
Third – Have Fun.Nov 29, 2010 at 7:32 am #1668989
@angelazLocale: New England
It will be the best of times… and the worst of times!
Having done it myself… I say YES, go for it.
Here's what will help you: having a high tolerance for bugs, dirt, stench, discomfort and boredom. The fact that you are in great shape is good, but really a lot of it is mental.
The one other thing to keep in mind is just flexibility. Some people start with partners and finished the entire thing with them… others end up wanting to go their separate ways because of issues like pace/mileage, personality conflicts, different ideas of what they wanted to get out of the hike…
You will meet the most kind, generous and open people while hiking… and often times these people aren't even other thru-hikers! You will experience so much freedom, and every day you get to wake up and have a purpose in life; a beautiful, simple, pure purpose: you get to walk in the woods.
Also, "I was already climbing the crazy tree, and now I'm reaching for the top branch" is the best quote ever. I'm totally stealing that one!
If you have any questions feel free to contact me. I miss the trail already and I just finished in September.Nov 29, 2010 at 8:19 am #1669001
@nerdboy52Locale: "Alas, poor Yogi.I knew him well."
As others have intimated, the the AT itself will be no problem for you, given that you are in excellent physical condition, etc.
The real issue is, do you really want to get to know your partner that well?
I've been married for 36 years. My wife and I have traveled extensively for a week or three at a time. Otherwise, we spend our days apart and our evenings and weekends together. We know each other well, but we don't know each other as well as a through-hike of the AT would engender.
And that's fine with me. The little things that arise from really close contact over months (the stink alone ;-) ) may be too much for your relationship to bear.
Or maybe not. Perhaps you know each other that well already, or perhaps you are both the tolerant sort. In those cases, go for it.
On the other hand, when we were in college so long ago, my wife spent a year studying in England. I visited her once during the Xmas holiday, and our relationship survived the separation. That was a sign to me that the marriage would survive — and it did.
Just my opinion. I could be wrong.
StargazerNov 29, 2010 at 8:36 am #1669006
You won't regret it! Except during those few days you're tired cold, wet, hungry, sore…. :)
My hiking experience is all on the west side – Sierras, Cascades, Rockies – so I can't offer any AT specific help. But I do have two comments:
1) Relationships: Doing a long hike in tandem is much like being married – while you will share some incredibly beautiful moments, you will also be exposed to the very worst of each other's personalities, quirks and body odors! Be prepared for that.
2) Navigation: During your prep time, learn how to navigate with map, compass, GPS, etc. Do NOT be totally dependent on your Eagle Scout – the day will come when you and your friend will be separated on the trail – different hiking speeds, a quarrel, whatever – you need to know how to stay found and not get yourself lost. It's not hard to do, but you should have your own maps and navigation tools (I'm an old compass user, but you young folks seem happier with a GPS), and use them regularly.
Have a great time!Nov 29, 2010 at 10:07 am #1669043
@ewolinLocale: Hampton Roads, Virginia
A few points deserve emphasis:
– Go lightweight, the closer to UL the better. You will not regret this.
– Take a few practice trips. Shakedown your equipment, find what works for you.
– Expect the possibility that you will split up. Pack in a self-sufficient manner, or at least be able convert to solo travel fairly quickly (e.g. have solo emergency package ready to be shipped to you on a moment's notice).
– Expect many not-so-good days on the trail. I understand (I've never gone on a mega-hike) you need to be very goal-oriented…if you are in it for fun you will be disappointed too often. Your purpose in hiking the AT is to hike the AT.Nov 30, 2010 at 9:20 pm #1669593
Regarding us and working together/close quarters:
OK, so I failed to mention we currently live together.
There's that, and the fact that he is extremely serious about sustainability — and not spending money, LOL — we have yet to use heat or air conditioning (um, August and September hovered in the high 90s, it's n. central florida), or hot water more than light lukewarm, in our perfectly functioning house that has all normal amenities. No TV either. While I had never lived in that particular way before, I think it's really awesome, actually, and have embraced it, especially after the first utility bill. We have one other roommate, but the two of us spend the most time together. I think it would be more or less OK as far as the getting to know, hahaha.
But still, noted.
If anyone is unrealistically nice, and would like to strike up a conversation/share stories!!/give advice on the fly, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love an online mentor!Dec 1, 2010 at 1:43 am #1669637
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
> Regarding us and working together/close quarters:
> OK, so I failed to mention we currently live together.
Go for it.
PS: I do ALL of my walking with my wife, including months at a time – been that way for the last … well, a very long time anyhow. :-)Dec 1, 2010 at 8:08 am #1669731
"Regarding us and working together/close quarters:
OK, so I failed to mention we currently live together."
Great! No worries then!
Nothing is better than hiking with your loved one!Dec 2, 2010 at 9:49 am #1670134
ok, further clarifcation: we are JUST friends.
JUST FRIENDS, EVERYBODY. CALM IT DOWN. :PDec 2, 2010 at 4:11 pm #1670235
You're anonymous!Dec 2, 2010 at 6:49 pm #1670294
@woodenwizardLocale: Greater Mt Tabor
Sure, just friends till you come back after brushing your teeth to find flowers on the tent. And not flowers from near the campsite- there aren't any. No, they're flowers from 10 miles back down the trail, that he hand picked for you and protected them while he carried them for the last 3 hours.
and I'm gonna tell EVERYONE on BPL that Anonymous is in love!
:)Dec 3, 2010 at 12:07 pm #1670508
I would only suspect you had lost your mind if you didn't go. :)
Statistically, you'll be much safer on the trail.
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