Forum Index » General Lightweight Backpacking Discussion » Looking for Help on How to Succeed on the AT


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Joseph Jacaruso
(CaptainJac) - MLife

Locale: Southeast
Looking for Help on How to Succeed on the AT on 01/22/2009 11:37:34 MST Print View

I’m a 56 year old backpacker planning a thru-hike on the AT starting March 15th, 2010. I am interested in hearing from other long distance hikers about things that made their trips successful. This could be preparation, training, diet, philosophy or anything else you think might be of help.

Ryan Linn
(ryan.c.linn)

Locale: Maine!
re: succeeding on the AT on 01/22/2009 13:56:15 MST Print View

That's a big question. I planned my hike to a T, and had to be finished on an exact date. I had my parents send mail drops with food and supplies. I stayed with friends at several places along the way and slack-packed as much as I felt like doing (including through all of NJ-NY, which I thought was pretty funny). And I did pretty well... finished exactly when I needed to, only lost 5 pounds of body weight and 10 pounds of pack weight.

That said, I don't think this is the best way to do a big hike. Since then, I have done a lot of planning on other backpacking trips, but always give myself a lot more time than I think I'll need, and let my schedule change as it needs to. The problem with my fixed end-date, my mail drops, and staying with friends along the way was that I really couldn't improvise much. I think a better way is to have more money and time than you will need, and then just go with the flow. Shop for food along the way so you never have to wait in town for a mail drop that didn't make it in time. Plan where you'll camp no more than a week in advance. Take a day off in town if you need to. And especially, hang out with the friends you make along the way.

Of course, two things to do before the trip starts are test your gear and get in shape. That pretty much goes without saying.

Joseph Jacaruso
(CaptainJac) - MLife

Locale: Southeast
Looking for Help . . . . on 01/22/2009 15:11:16 MST Print View

Thanks for the advise Ryan. I'm in good shape on the time. I'm retiring before the end of the year. Also I hiked a section with a thru-hiker last year that agrees with not doing mail drops. He said everything you needed could be purchased along the way. I may do a drop box but only plan to pick it up every couple of weeks.

I am planning to meet a couple of friends along the way. Where and when we meet will be decided as the trip progresses.

If you think of anything else please send it my way.

Scott S
(sschloss1) - F

Locale: New England
A few places to look on 01/22/2009 18:44:05 MST Print View

Have you been to whiteblaze.net? You could know absolutely nothing about backpacking and learn pretty much everything you need to hike the AT there (fyi, most people on that site are not UL, but the site is a good starting point).

Also, try reading some trail journals at trailjournals.com. These will give you a sense of what it's like to hike the trail on a day-to-day basis. If you poke around, you can probably find someone who is similar to you in terms of age and experience and see how their hike went.

One last thing: a friend of just published a book called "How to Hike the AT." I haven't seen the book, and it may be beneath your experience level, but she's a great writer. Good luck.

Robert Bryant
(KG4FAM) - F

Locale: Upstate
Its pretty simple on 01/22/2009 19:03:01 MST Print View

Since you are going NOBO all you need to do is show up with at least 3-4 days food to get you to Neel Gap. Buy another 3 days there to get to Hiawassee. Just keep doing that and that is all you need. Southern mountains are easy and there are outfitters and hostels/hotels everywhere. You can show up with zero backpacking experience and will be fine so if you do have experience its a piece of cake. Eventually you will get settled in and it will just feel right.

If you start SOBO your life is a lot easier if you have your stuff together, but NOBO is cool either way.

Joseph Jacaruso
(CaptainJac) - MLife

Locale: Southeast
Re: A few places to look on 01/23/2009 06:04:50 MST Print View

Thanks Scott, I have poked around on White Blaze. You are right they are not UL but that's okay. I tend to be on the light weight side of UL (9-11 lb.). And as far as trail journals, I've followed several hikers from one end of the trail to the other on TrailJournals.com.

I checked out your friend's book. It got good reviews, so one is on the way from Amazon.

As for my experience, I've been backpacking (mostly traditional) for the past eleven years. I try to get out at least once a month for an overnight trip but really look forward to a week + on the AT in the spring. Last year I did 6 days in Shenandoah. I also attended WT1-RM and had a ball hiking in the Rockies.

I don't consider any advise below my experience level so if you think of anything else, forward it on!

Thanks

Joseph Jacaruso
(CaptainJac) - MLife

Locale: Southeast
Re: Its pretty simple on 01/23/2009 06:27:37 MST Print View

Robert, you make it sound so simple. And that's how I hope I can make this trip. Re-supply and walk a few days and then do it again. Some place I heard that the best way to do this was not to think of it as one long hike but several one week hikes. That way you are only six days away from a goal.

I'm starting to believe this thing is going to be more mental than physical.

I will be hiking NOBO with my son (age 22). I thought SOBO would be more fun (hiking back home to the south), but he wants to go the traditional way and I can see some advantages. As the days get longer we will be in better condition to hike more hours. Also I understand that the hostels and businesses that cater to hikers open sooner in the south plus we would have to wait for Katahdin to open. I don't want a strict schedule but it would be nice to walk just ahead of summer. Leaving in mid-March we sould be able to avoid the heat until we are in the mid-Atlantic states.

I've hiked Georgia once. From Springer to Neel's Gap was a two day hike with a 40 lb. pack. I'm looking forward to seeing if droping about half that weight will make that an easier trip.

If you think of anything else send it on.

b s
(smyth) - F
Re: Re: Its pretty simple on 01/23/2009 06:37:02 MST Print View

I agree, don't get overwhelmed with the idea of getting to Katahdin. I liked to make smaller goals for myself; get to NC, get to VA, hike through Shenandoah, get home to Jersey, etc., etc. That way the goals seemed much more tangible.

I arrived at Springer in '05 with much less experience than you will. You are well ahead of the game. You could not be more right though, after about two months on the trail, it became much more of a mental "challenge" than a physical one....albeit a very enjoyable "challenge".

Good luck. Enjoy the trip.

Joseph Jacaruso
(CaptainJac) - MLife

Locale: Southeast
Re: Re: Re: Its pretty simple on 01/23/2009 09:10:01 MST Print View

Brad, thanks for the encouragement. I was thinking even smaller, like a shower at Mountain Crossing, a hamburger at the NOC, a sponge bath in the restroom at Clingman's Dome, pizza at Standing Bear Farm (Curtis is a great host), cold beer at the Paddler's Pub in Hot Springs. Things like that!

Edited by CaptainJac on 01/23/2009 09:11:58 MST.

Ryan Linn
(ryan.c.linn)

Locale: Maine!
Succeeding on 01/23/2009 11:13:57 MST Print View

Another part I forgot to mention... when asking past thru-hikers for advice, always take it with more than a grain of salt. The mantra you hear is "hike your own hike" but most people who've finished the trail (myself included) can get pretty over-excited when asked for advice. So remember... it's your own hike. That's why my best piece of advice is to remain flexible. Maybe something that seems like a good idea now will seem less so when you get there (like the hamburger at NOC versus a full night's stay). You won't know for sure until you get there, and nobody else will be able to tell you, either.

Joseph Jacaruso
(CaptainJac) - MLife

Locale: Southeast
Re: Succeeding on 01/24/2009 04:49:53 MST Print View

Ryan that is the direction I want to go. I don't want to be on a schedule. I don't want to have to be somewhere by a certain day. I think a general plan for the week (mostly to make sure I have plenty of food) will be enough. Then each morning get up and head north. Have an idea where I want to stop for the night. But I see from the advice in this thread and a couple I read in WB last night is like you said be flexible.

Speaking of food, anybody want to offer some suggestions? I've been cooking on a wood stove for the last year. I'm going to modify it so I can use alcohol in bad weather or when twigs are not available.

Robert Bryant
(KG4FAM) - F

Locale: Upstate
Food on 01/24/2009 05:12:32 MST Print View

Just like mentioned before flexibility is the answer to food as well. It looks like you are on the right track by not relying on a wood stove.

One thing that I saw this summer by a "planner" was carrying a pot that was too small to cook in. This person was planning on using mail drop freezer bag meals the whole way and thought that they only needed enough of a pot to boil water. It turned out that they hated their prepackaged meals and struggled to cook regular stuff.

Mail drops are dumb if you don't have special diet concerns. Its a waste of time and money on your end and your support person. There is plenty of food at stores along the trail.

Scott S
(sschloss1) - F

Locale: New England
Mail drops on 01/24/2009 06:41:48 MST Print View

Robert, I'm a little sick of AT folks saying that mail drops for food are dumb. I've used mail drops on 1000 miles of trail now, and I wouldn't do the AT any other way. I loved my food, I was glad to not have to worry about getting to grocery stores (not always easy), and I saved money by being able to buy in bulk, even after shipping costs. To me, my meals looked tastier and healthier than what people who resupply on trail were eating.

That said, there's no right or wrong when it comes to mail drops--if you want to plan ahead, go for it. If you want to resupply in stores, do that.

Here's the best AT planning advice I can give you: ignore any blanket statements that x (whatever it is) is good, bad, the best, the worst, dumb, or brilliant. What's best or worst is going to be different for every hiker.

Edited by sschloss1 on 01/24/2009 06:42:47 MST.

Frank Deland
(rambler) - M

Locale: On the AT in VA
At Hike on 01/24/2009 12:03:28 MST Print View

Another website dedicated mostly to the AT is Trailplace.com

For the AT in New Hampshire with many photos of both the mountains and the shelters goto hikethewhites.com

Edited by rambler on 01/24/2009 12:06:47 MST.

Patricia Combee
(Trailfrog) - F

Locale: Northeast/Southeast your call
Looking for help on how to succeed on the AT on 01/24/2009 16:56:59 MST Print View

Don't overplan (plans will probably start changing from day 1); be flexible; have a sense of humor.
Some mail drops are helpful in places without much in the way of stores (use hiker hostels, outfitters, etc, since the PO might be closed when you get to where you sent your stuff to and then you will have to either wait for PO to open or just say the heck with it).
Don't get caught up in trying either keep up with a group or slow down for a group; you will most likely see them again either way.
Enjoy every day, the good days, the bad days and everything in between! Lastly, remember that you are out there because you want to be, not because you have to be.

Joseph Jacaruso
(CaptainJac) - MLife

Locale: Southeast
Re: Food on 01/24/2009 19:48:36 MST Print View

Robert, I’m not much of a planner especially when it comes to meals. I’ve tried planning for a two week hike. By the end there were foods I never wanted to see again. I met a guy at REI that said at the end of his hike he still had a pallet of oatmeal. Plus if I was to rely on my support person to send the mail drops I might get puppy food. She is taking care of my dog and about 2 months into the trip I can she her switching our food to get me back home.

Joseph Jacaruso
(CaptainJac) - MLife

Locale: Southeast
Re: Mail drops on 01/24/2009 19:49:24 MST Print View

Scott I like to hear everyone’s opinion but I agree with on finding what works best, worst or in between for me. Thanks for your comments on mail drops. I used them summer of 07 for a trip through the Smokies and up to Hot Springs. I sent way too much stuff. I don’t think I want to do that for this trip. However I am considering a bounce box.

Joseph Jacaruso
(CaptainJac) - MLife

Locale: Southeast
Re: At Hike on 01/24/2009 19:50:09 MST Print View

Frank thanks for the link to the Whites. I’ll check it out!

Joseph Jacaruso
(CaptainJac) - MLife

Locale: Southeast
Re: Looking for help on how to succeed on the AT on 01/24/2009 19:51:12 MST Print View

Patricia, a group of hikers hit the same shelters I did in the summer of 07. While the company was great I wondered if being in such a large group actually hindered their progress. I only know of one that made it to Katahdin. He finished after the mountain was closed. While I hope to meet a lot of new friends on the trail, I agree that this has to be at my pace.
And I’m one of those people that can find humor in almost anything. I hope it holds up on the trail. Thanks.

Jesse Glover
(hellbillylarry) - F

Locale: southern appalachians
Re: Re: Looking for help on how to succeed on the AT on 02/02/2009 18:33:56 MST Print View

I think the biggest mistake people make while thru-hiking the AT is making it harder/more complicated than it is. I mean its just hiking in the woods you are never more than 6 days from a store and hardly ever do you go a day without at least crossing an FS rd. What I am saying is take it one day at a time have fun take breaks take zero days whatever just have a good time even if that means you don't make it the whole way. Hiking the AT is probably easier than any job you've ever had.