In a little over four months I will be starting my AT thru-hike! It’s hard to believe that this lifelong dream is so close to becoming a reality. Starting on about April 1st my job will be to walk, camp, walk, camp, and so on – day after day. The AT will throw challenges at me and I expect that every day will be different in some way but I really look forward to the simplicity of walking in the woods. I experienced this simple life for a month when my wife and I walked the Camino de Santiago and the AT will give me the opportunity to live simply for about five months.
To prepare myself physically I am training almost every day – walking, hiking, running, cycling, and lifting – some days hard and some days relatively easy. My training goal is to maintain my current fitness level and be ready to hike 10-15 miles per day from my first day on the AT. During the Camino hike I was able to cover 15-20 miles per day easily and hiked up to 26 miles on several occasions. In the process I learned that 20 miles maximum is about right for me but it will be interesting to see how that translates to the AT. The terrain will be more challenging so I am planning to start out walking 10-15 miles per day and seeing how my body feels. If all systems are go, I will increase the daily mileage until my body complains.
I am also preparing mentally by reading selected books about long distance hiking and the AT in particular. I am keeping a hard-copy journal with notes about my dreams and goals related to hiking the AT. I think that the most important thing for me will be to continuously remind myself of my lifelong dream of hiking the AT, my love of hiking in the woods, and how completing the AT thru-hike will give me a fantastic sense of accomplishment. In fact, it may well be one of the most significant accomplishments of my life. If I can remind myself of all of this, I should be able to endure bad weather, aches and pains, boredom, homesickness, and any other challenges that might tempt me to give up my dream and quit.
My planning consists of making adjustments to my backpacking gear, researching food options, and gaining as much information about the trail as possible. I am pretty happy with my gear and have checked it out on day hikes and an overnight trip on the AT near my home in Virginia. I need to get a few more items and watch the weather carefully in March to make final decisions on what clothing to use. If it’s colder than usual, I will wear and carry more clothing and a sleeping bag liner. If it’s warmer, I can carry less weight in clothing and will not need the liner. One great thing about the AT community is that there are so many experienced hikers who are willing to share their experience and provide valuable advice and recommendations. I have already benefited a lot from their experience.
In the next couple of months I will study AT guides and maps to try to estimate where my best options for resupply will be. I really enjoy being in the woods but know that I will have to leave the trail from time to time to purchase food, wash clothes and take care of a few other chores. But I do not want to take a lot of zero days or spend much time in towns.