Soon It Begins--Feb. 24
Welcome to a different kind of Appalachian Trail journey. I have walked the pathway’s 2,176 miles four times and my wife, Laurie, has completed the trip three times. Our dog, MacAfee of Knob, will be on his second hike of the pathway. The trail passes through 14 states, six national parks, and eight national forests. Following the ridgeline of the Appalachian Mountains, it skirts mountain streams, ascends rocky peaks, goes into primitive wilderness areas, and passes over farmland and rural roads. Elevations range from near sea level in New York to more than 6,000 feet in Tennessee.
Although each Georgia to Maine trek has lasted about five months, we both have felt that they were too short. Our new outing, which begins March 1, is going to emphasize time over distance.
Since we intend to average no more than 10 miles a day during the more than seven-month trip, we will experience the vagaries of all the seasons in the mountains. On the highest elevations in the south, we expect to encounter late winter’s frigid temperatures, deep snows, and ice storms. Spring’s longer daylight hours will bring forth multitudes of wildflowers to study and delight in. Our slower pace will permit us to walk in fresh morning breezes and late into the evening, taking breaks to swim and lounge around during the hottest part of summer days. Changing leaf colors and the return of cooler weather will accompany our autumnal traverse of New England.
With less of an emphasis on making miles, we’ll have the luxury to enjoy viewpoints along side trails that had been ignored on previous trips, tarry beside cascading waterfalls, and watch the varied birds, animals, reptiles, and amphibians go about their daily lives. We can indulge in that wonderful activity that only those who have not a care in the world can participate—watching white, puffy clouds float slowly overhead and imagine them morphing into the silhouettes of a charging lion, a raging elephant, delicate rows of tulips, an old-style VW bus, or Abraham Lincoln with a long beard and stovepipe hat.
Since we will be starting a month before most Georgia to Maine thru-hikers, we will probably meet the bulk of them as they pass us, getting to know the personalities that will make up this year’s trail community. Extended time in towns to resupply will also provide us the opportunity to have long conversations with those who inhabit the small Appalachian Mountain towns from the Deep South to the northern reaches of New England.
In other words, we will finally have the time to discover and appreciate all of the small parts of the Appalachian Trail that come together to make up the whole.
As stated, this is a different kind of Appalachian Trail journey, one that will not be accomplished in typical fashion. Commitments that cannot be changed will force us to jump around on the trail. We’ll hike from Georgia to southern Virginia before leaving the trail for a couple of weeks (Laurie will become a crew member of a square-rigged 180-foot ship sailing from the Caribbean to the U.S.!) before resuming the trek in northern Virginia. We will also miss New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts on the northbound journey.
However, we will hike these areas. It just means that when we stand atop Mount Katahdin in Maine with other thru-hikers whose journeys have come to an end, we will still have several hundred more miles and weeks of hiking to look forward to.
Planning for the trip has taken longer than the hike will. Decisions had to be made as to the type of food, clothing, and shelter we will use. Although freeze-dried food is lightweight and easily prepared, it is costly. Therefore, we will be eating a lot of macaroni and cheese, rice, and granola. For three days our living room was a wall-to-wall grocery store of food spread across the floor. We have made 32 resupply boxes to be mailed to us at designated points along the way, usually towns with post offices close to the trail. No great undertaking can be accomplished alone, and friends will be our support team, shipping the boxes to us as needed.
Equipment has become lighter and changed greatly since I did my first thru-hike with a pack weight of close to 60 pounds. Because we are now able to carry a tent that weighs only three pounds, sleeping bags coming in at two pounds, and packs weighing about a pound, our total weight each will be less than 30 pounds, even with cold weather clothing, rain gear, food, and water.
Will we be able to cover the entire trail within the calendar year? Who knows? Will we have fun days and hard days, good times and bad times? You bet! This new adventure will find us walking northward in just a few days. I will be reporting back to you every two to three weeks. Wish us happy trails.